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January 1, 2000.

1. Preliminary bearings

The highest regulatory agency of a civilization is the set of moral principles it makes available to you for the governance of your relationship with your own conscience.

A mature civilization does not ask you to choose between your humanity and your self-interest.

Real morality serves to enhance the quality of the life lived in its observance. The purpose of your moral observance cannot be to serve the self-interest of others. Real morality is self-regarding. In fact, most past systems of morality have been self-regarding in that they have promised their adherents an ultimate reward for moral observance, albeit often in "another life."

As a moral agent you determine or choose your acts in accordance with your own inclinations, motives and judgements. You live as you like, and as your freedom is great, so your responsibility is coextensive with it. Your acts are irrevocable, and you cannot evade their consequences. In fact, you yourself bear sole responsibility for those acts, their consequences and the resultant state of your life. In the end, therefore, nothing compares in importance with assuming that responsibility and choosing rightly, since you yourself pay the price of error.

Remember also the fact that you act in time, which means that some of the consequences of your acts do not become apparent until after the fact. Since some of those consequences may turn out to be unacceptable to you, your inclinations prior to knowledge of those consequences are an inadequate guide to choosing rightly. You would like to know not only what you want, but what you would want to want if you knew the full consequences of a given course of action. Such specific foreknowledge is unavailable in principle at the time a choice is made; hence the importance of sound principles.

2. The principle of ownership

The moral foundation of proprietary right (ownership) is personal investment. That into which you invest your effort or other resources becomes yours by virtue of that investment. Being yours means that you have the right to dispose of it freely, including destroying it, abandoning it, giving it away, exchanging it for goods or services possessed by others, or simply keeping it for your own use.

Free disposability of property means that anything owned by another or others is out of bounds for you as a rightful object of your personal investment. You may acquire it only through negotiated exchange with those others, or as a gift from them.

Free disposability is also the basis for voluntary exchange with others. If another has something you prefer to something you have that the other prefers, you will both be better off, that is, you will both serve your self-interests, if you exchange the items in question, be they goods, services, information or money in any combination.

The right to will your resources as an inheritance to anyone (your children included) is subsumed under the right of ownership, and cannot be abrogated without violating the principle of free disposability of property.

The principle of ownership means that there is no ownership by fiat - that is, by simply claiming or declaring ownership - nor is there any moral foundation for the concept that something can be owned "by all." That which is not owned personally is not owned at all. This, of course, does not prevent owners from pooling their resources by mutual agreement, a right subsumed under the free disposability of property.

The principle of ownership has special consequences for your possession of yourself, or more specifically, of your body and your life, as follows:

Up till the moment when you drew your first breath, investment in your body and your life was entirely that of your parents. The investment being theirs, you were accordingly wholly theirs, and subject to their rights of ownership. As for you so for your children. Till they have drawn their first breath you own them wholly, and accordingly exercise the moral right of life and death over them up to that point.

Starting with your first breath, you embarked on that path of self-acquisition on which you would, by small steps and imperceptible degrees, acquire the rights of ownership over yourself by doing things for yourself tending to increase your independence and self-sufficiency. Your license to do so despite your parents' prior ownership is predicated on their natural self-interest in seeing you attain adulthood.

The process of your self-acquisition has its natural goal in the state or condition in which you are fully self-sufficient, i.e. can conduct you life on the basis of the resources you possess or which you acquire through creative effort and negotiated exchange with others. That state defines adulthood or maturity, and marks your full ownership of yourself.

To the extent that your life becomes the beneficiary of non-reciprocal aid or subsidies by others, whether as persons or institutions, the same principle of investment gives them a rightful partial stake of ownership in your life, making you that much less your own.