Reprinted from the Independent Institute
The ontology of the human being is elusive. But let’s say: You are a soul and you own your person.
The soul and the person together constitute the human being. It is also apt, of course, to say you are a human being. But here, I use ‘you’ to address just you, the soul, as a way to jolt us into a way of thinking.
Souls and persons are one-to-one, so it is natural that ‘human being’ be signified as either ‘soul’ or ‘person,’ each serving, according to my formulation, as a synecdoche for the human being.
Where does the person end and the soul begin? I don’t know. By “person,” I mean more than your body. By “person,” I mean something like body and mind. Is the will also part of the person? I don’t know. In fact, I am inclined to say that soul has a will and the person has a will. The two wills are related but not one and the same. The ontology remains elusive. But let’s say you are a soul and you own your person.
Here are some implications and additional thoughts:
Each soul enjoys a special knowledge and control over its person. David Hume wrote of “the fix’d and constant advantages of the mind and body.” Likewise, David Friedman writes in this article nine times of your person as your “natural property.” Since everyone owns his or her person, no one is propertyless.
Your person is certainly a unique form of property; it differs from other forms of property. But the most important facet of property applies perfectly to your person: It is something of yours that jural equals are not to mess with. And when government messes with your person, we call it a violation of liberty.
You cannot render your person to another human being, and in that sense, you cannot alienate your person. In affirming that your person is your property, we hold that alienability is not a necessary feature of property.
The only way to abolish all private property would be to annihilate humankind.
There has never been such a thing as a “slaveowner”. Slaveholders do not own the slaves they hold. Slaves own themselves. Slaveholders violate that ownership.
For practically everything you enjoy in life, you engage in home production. Your person must interact with digital sources to complete the production of entertainment; your person must interact with the spectacle to enjoy the ball game; your person must interact with your fellows to produce sympathy and communion. The part played by your person in producing every one of your experiences is not merely a “receiving” part, but often a large part, because so much depends on your person’s attitude and aptitudes. That is especially so for the highest things in your world.
Every soul owns its person, and a person is a sort of capital good, so every soul is a capitalist. You are endowed with what Gary Becker called human capital.
Demarcating capital and labor is less clear than people usually suppose since labor is but the application of your capital, your person, with all of its knowledge, abilities, and virtues.
Your person is worth a lot to you. It is a valuable piece of property. Seeing each’s person as wealth, we may understand that wealth holdings throughout society are more equal than usually reported.
You are a principal, and, in your person, you have an agent. Your agent is not altogether reliable in advancing your interest.
You are a constituent of the whole of humankind, and, in your person, you have a representative.
When your lips form words, and speech comes from your mouth, you speak only in as much as your person represents you faithfully and accurately.
You want to commune with other souls. You can scarcely do so directly, but must deal with their agents or representatives. Adam Smith wrote, “Frankness and openness conciliate confidence.”
You and your person are joined. A source of joy is friendship with your person.
You have knowledge that your person does not. Assume that the knowledge asymmetries between you and your person are too substantial ever to assume away.
You can believe that all souls are good; it is persons that are ever bad. In Swedish, there is a knock that literally means “crunch ball”—knasboll. But the Swedish idiom is, “Din knasboll!,” “Your crunch ball.” They do not say, “Du knasboll!,” as Americans might say, “You jerk!” The idiom is like saying: Your crunch ball is acting up. Get him under control!
If you also believe that the soul passes out of existence when the person does, you would scarcely ever wish death upon a person because the soul would die, too. Exceptions could come when the person is a clear and present danger to others.
It is useful and agreeable to think of yourself as a soul that owns its person. It is also useful and agreeable to think that there is a universal benevolent beholder of the whole. On that further notion, we have other implications:
Pleasing the universal benevolent beholder provides a framework for ethics. Virtue corresponds to cooperation with that beholder.
Because of the special knowledge and control that each soul has over its person, and because each individual is a part of the whole, ethics authorizes one to focus on his or her local interests because that is where their efforts are most effective and most reliably good. The governmentalization of social affairs is, by and large, frowned on by the beholder because it makes efforts less reliably good and less effective—indeed, often terrible and inhumane. The governmentalization of social affairs tends to elevate people who are not virtuous and smother us in their baseness and corruption.
It is also useful and agreeable to pattern your thoughts along the lines of benevolent monotheism, that each of us is made by God, and in his image. That, too has implications.