Man on Island (Libertarian Ethics)

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    In a debate with someone on natural rights and libertarian ethics we ended up on an island. A man has homesteaded and owns the whole island before another man washes up on shore. The debater claims the man has a right to grab a banana from a tree to save his life even if the owner does not consent. Yet the owner, after all ,did not initiate any of this washing up on his island.

    Is this simply a matter where mercy must come out of the owners heart? How would you respond?


    I do find it interesting, that I very seldom see these sort of “thought experiments” applied to other political stripes. It seems that Libertarians are the only ones who are poked and prodded.

    Anyway, wouldn’t there be a large amount of value of having another person on the island? To help with work and what not. Seems sharing a banana would be a small price to pay for splitting the work load. Just my opinion.


    If there are only two people involved then I think survival takes precedence and either man will dispense that as he sees fit for the situation. Will this washed up man kill me? How and when do I determine that? If I think the washed up man is dangerous, then what is my best solution?

    All dangers aside I certainly would share a banana, water, stories, laughs, etc. with him, not because I assume he has natural rights that I must comply with, but because of the joy it would bring. I am not really concerned with his rights natural or not.

    I would hope theories would not be involved in my thinking. Organizing a nation is one thing, the perils of two people on an island is another.

    I have wondered about one man alone on planet Earth. In effect, that man in his mind owns the planet. Then a second man appears, immediately the first man’s ownership drops to half. They know nothing of rights at all. What would happen, would war break out??? If so should it be judged? Could either man walk away without looking over his shoulder? Would they discuss how they can live on the planet together? Who knows?


    This situation is akin to the welfare of today. Should one individual be able to steal if they are worse off than another individual? The answer is clearly no, otherwise property rights no longer exist.

    What if the island only had enough bananas to sustain one person? Would the person arguing that the theft is OK still find it to be acceptable?

    Assuming there is enough food to feed both men what recourse then would Man A have against the encroachment of Man B? Man A can not force Man B to labor for the same reason Man B can not force Man A into giving him a banana against Man A’s will. The only legitimate course is mutually agreed trade.

    Now the question of can “Man A force Man B off the island?” comes up. Well, can you force someone out of your car when you are driving at highway speeds?

    The original question and solution is rather simple once you set up some basic definitions of property rights.

    @Mr. Roussin
    Just having another person come into existence does not split the available property amongst all known individuals. Homesteading requires the combining of nature and labor. With the available technology today, one person could not have the capital to homestead an entire planet. Although it is an interesting thought that we may one day be able to homestead an entire planet for ourselves.

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