Good question; thanks for making me think more about the issue.
The bright line you appear to be drawing between contracts and promises doesn’t seem to me to actually exist. In real life we cannot be bound to our word by contracts any more than by promises. Contract law itself recognizes this – lots of contracts contain “escape clauses” – conditions under which they are no longer deemed binding – as well as penalties for breaking them which presume that they may be broken. Conversely, many promises have definite consequences if they are not kept, even where no contract exists. Depending on the circumstances surrounding them, any given promise may be binding to a greater or lesser degree than any given contract.
Is this lack of a clear distinction between promises and contracts a regrettable state of affairs that we should try to rectify? Perhaps, to a point. Yet I suspect that a world in which everyone considered contract fulfillment their chief moral obligation and highest priority could be a world with quite a few more unnecessary nasty outcomes than we have at present.
Let me acknowledge here that I’m not sure any 100% satisfying answers exist on this topic. But consider this line of reasoning: Property doesn’t have rights, but human beings do. Except to the extent that it becomes necessary to infringe upon or limit someone’s rights to protect the rights of others, those rights are inherent and inalienable. So even if you were to sign a contract stating, “I, Michael Edelstein, agree that henceforth I no longer have any right to be free”, this would not make your right to be free go away. The right itself would still be there even if you did not utilize it. While you might choose not to exercise the right, by the mere act of choosing, of making any independent choice, you would in a sense be exercising it.
The practical reality is that, barring an extraordinary circumstance such as someone selling themselves into slavery and subsequently being turned into some kind of brainless automaton no longer capable of independent thought, a voluntarily enslaved person will remain capable of thinking and acting, and there’s no way to guarantee they won’t have a change of heart and decide they no longer want to be a slave. Furthermore, thoughts and feelings themselves can be involuntary. Even if your master commanded you not to think of freedom, and even if you had every intention of meeting the terms of your contract by obeying that command, your human nature might betray you and you might think of freedom anyway.
It seems to me that selling oneself into slavery may be an inherently unfulfillable contract, like signing a contract agreeing never to be sad again, or never to laugh again. You could enter into such an agreement, but expecting you to actually comply with its terms would not be realistic under normal circumstances. You could likewise sign a contract agreeing that 2+2=5, but doing so would not change the underlying reality of the situation.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
P.S. – Regarding your other question, “can either side reneg?”, surely that again depends on the nature of the agreement. If Jeff Bezos gave you $10 million up front to be his slave for life starting at the beginning of 2022, and by November 2021 you’d spent all the money, it would no longer be within his practical power at that point to renege on giving it to you. But if he’d instead agreed to let you marry his daughter when she turns 18*, then his reneging would be within the realm of possibility. Perhaps what you really wanted to ask is whether I think both sides should be allowed to renege without penalty as a matter of law or custom, since in many cases it clearly would be possible? That begs the question of whether one can renege on an agreement that was never valid in the first place. If you agree in perpetuity that 2+2=5, but subsequently you happen to combine 2 items with 2 other items and observe that the result is that you have 4 items, not 5, have you reneged on your agreement?
*I have no idea whether he has a daughter or not!
On Feb 27, 2021, at 8:10 PM, Michael Edelstein wrote:
On voluntary slavery you say, “we must always be free to end the arrangement if we later change our minds.”
If we are free to change our minds, in what sense is this a contract? The value of a contract is that it binds our word. This distinguishes it from a promise.
On Feb 27, 2021, at 6:57 PM, Michael Edelstein wrote:
Can either side reneg?
Warm regards, Michael
Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.
Co-author of Three Minute Therapy
with David Ramsay Steele, Ph.D.
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On Feb 27, 2021, at 3:38 PM, Starchild via LPSF Forum email@example.com wrote:
It is a difficult grey area Richard, but where I come down on it is that technically – much libertarian theory and usage to the contrary – we do not own ourselves, rather we are ourselves. This means that our bodies, our selves, are not just one more commodity to be bought, sold, traded, or otherwise disposed of as property as if by some external alien authority not inherent in our bodies. So while I think we can decide for ourselves to enter into bondage and voluntary agree to its terms, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, I would also assert that we must always be free to end the arrangement if we later change our minds. If that means reneging on a contract or something, of course our reputations may suffer accordingly and those who incur financial or other loss as a result may be entitled to compensation.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
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