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6. A Crusoe Social Philosophy

0 ne of the most commonly derided constructions of classical

economic theory is "Crusoe Economics," the analysis of an isolated

man face-to-face with nature. And yet, this seemingly "unrealistic"

model, as I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, has highly important

and even indispensable uses.' It serves to isolate man as against nature,

thus gaining clarity by abstracting at the beginning from interpersonal

relations. Later on, this man/nature analysis can be extended and applied

to the "real world." The bringing in of "Fridaynor of one or more other

persons, after analysis of strictly Robinsonian isolation, then serves to show

how the addition of other persons affects the discussion. These conclusions

can then also be applied to the contemporary world. Thus, the abstraction

of analyzing a few persons interacting on an island enables a dear perception

of the basic truths of interpersonal relations, truths which remain obscure if

we insist on looking first at the contemporary world only whole and of a piece.

If Cmoe economics can and does supply the indispensable groundwork

for the entire structure of economics and praxeology-the broad, formal

analysis of human action-a similar procedure should be able to do the same

thing for social philosophy, for the analysis of the fundamental truths of the

nature of man vis-6-vis the nature of the world into which he is born, as well

as the world of other men. Specifically, it can aid greatly in solving such

problems of political philosophy as the nature and role of liberty property,

and ~iolence.~

Let us consider Crusoe, who has landed on his island, and, to simpllfjr

matters, has contracted amnesia. What inescapable facts does Crusoe

confront? He finds, for one thing, himself, with the primordial fact of his

own consciousness and his own body. He finds, second, the natural world

around him, the nature-given habitat and resources which economists sum

up in the term "land."3 He finds also that, in seeming contrast with animals, he does not possess any innate instinctual knowledge impelling him into

the proper paths for the satisfaction of his needs and desires. In fact, he

begins his life in this world by knowing literally nothing; all knowledge

must be learned by him. He comes to learn that he has numerous ends,

purposes which he desires to achieve, many of which he must achieve to

sustain his life: food, shelter, clothing, etc. After the basic needs are

satisfied, he finds more "advanced" wants for which to aim. To satisfy

any or all of these wants which he evaluates in accordance with their

respective importance to him, Crusoe must also learn how to achieve

them; he must, in short, acquire "technological knowledge,"or "recipes."

Crusoe, then, has manifold wants which he tries to satisfy, ends

that he strives to attain. Some of these ends may be attained with minimal

ef-fort on his part; if the island is so structured, he may be able to pick

edible berries off nearby bushes. In such cases, his "consumption" of a

good or service may be obtained quickly and almost instantaneously.

But for almost all of his wants, Crusoe fids that the natural world about

him does not satisfy them immediately and instantaneously; he is not, in

short, in a Garden of Eden. To achieve his ends, he must, as quickly and

productively as he can, take the nature-given resources and transform

them into useful objects, shapes, and places most useful to him-so that

he can satisfy his wants.

In short, he must (a) choose his goals; (b) learn how to achieve them

by using nature-given resources; and then (c) exert his labor energy to

transform these resources into more useful shapes and places: i-e., into

"capital goods,"and finally into "consumer goods" that he can directly

consume. Thus, Crusoe may build himself, out of the given natural raw

materials, an axe (capital good) with which to chop down trees, in order

to construct a cabin (consumer good). Or he may build a net (capital good)

with which to catch fish (consumer good). In each case, he employs his

learned technological knowledge to exert his labor effort in transforming

land into capital goods and eventually into consumer goods. This process

of transformation of land resources constitutes his "production." In short,

Crusoe must produce before he can consume, and so that he may consume.

And by this process of production, of transformation, man shapes and

alters his nature-given environment to his own ends, instead of,

animal-like, being simply determined by that environment.

And so man, not having innate, instinctive, automatically acquired

knowledge of his proper ends, or of the means by which they can be

achieved, must learn them, and to learn them he must exercise his powers

of observation, abstraction, thought: in short, his reason. Reason is man's

instrument of knowledge and of his very survival; the use and expansion of his mind, the acquisition of knowledge about what is best for him and

how he can achieve it, is the uniquely human method of existence and of

achievement. And this is uniquely man's nature; man, as Aristotle pointed

out, is the rational animal, or to be more precise, the rational being.

Through his reason, the individual man observes both the facts and ways

of the external world, and the facts of his own consciousness, including

his emotions: in short, he employs both extraspection and introspection.

Crusoe, we have said, learns about his ends and about how to attain

them. But what specifically does his learning faculty, his reason, do in

the process of obtaining such knowledge? It learns about the way things

work in the world, i.e., the natures of the various specific entities and classes

of entities that the man finds in existence; in short, he learns the natural

laws of the way things behave in the world. He learns that an arrow shot

from a bow can bring down a deer, and that a net can catch an abundance

of fish. Further, he learns about his own nature, about the sort of events

and actions that will make him happy or unhappy; in short, he learns

about the ends he needs to achieve and those he should seek to avoid.

This process, this method necessary to man's survival and prosperity

upon the earth, has often been derided as unduly or exclusively "materialistic."

But it should be clear that what has happened in this activity proper

to man's nature is a fusion of "spirit" and matter; man's mind, using the

ideas it has learned, directs his energy in transforming and reshaping matter

into ways to sustain and advance his wants and his life. Behind every

"produced" good, behind every man-made transformation of natural

resources, is an idea directing the effort, a manifestation of man's spirit.

The individual man, in introspecting the fact of his own consciousness,

also discovers the primordial natural fact of his freedom: his freedom to

choose, his freedom to use or not use his reason about any given subject.

In short, the natural fact of his "free will." He also discovers the natural

fact of his mind's command over his body and its actions: that is, of his

natural ownership over his self.

Crusoe, then, owns his body; his mind is free to adopt whatever

ends it wishes, and to exercise his reason in order to discover what ends

he should choose, and to learn the recipes for employing the means at

hand to attain them. Indeed, the very fact that the knowledge needed for

man's survival and progress is not innately given to him or determined

by external events, the very fact that he must use his mind to learn this

knowledge, demonstrates that he is by nature free to employ or not to

employ that reason-i.e., that he has free will.4 Surely, there is nothing

outri or mystical about the fact that men differ from stones, plants, or

even animals, and that the above are crucial differences between them. The

critical and unique facts about man and the ways in which he must live

to survive-his consciousness, his free will and free choice, his faculty of

reason, his necessity for learning the natural laws of the external world

and of himself, his self-ownership, his need to "produce" by transforming

nature-given matter into consumable forms-all these are wrapped up in

what man's nature is, and how man may survive and flourish. Suppose

now that Crusoe is confronted with a choice of either picking berries or

picking some mushrooms for food, and he decides upon the pleasantly

tasting mushrooms, when suddenly a previously shipwrecked inhabitant,

coming upon Crusoe, shouts: "Don't do that! Those mushrooms are poisonous."

There is no mystery in Crusoe's subsequent shift to berries. What has

happened here? Both men have operated on an assumption so strong

that it remained tacit, an assumption that poison is bad, bad for the health

and even for the survival of the human organism-in short, bad for the continuation

and the quality of a man's life. In this implicit agreement on

the value of life and health for the person, and on the evils of pain and

death, the two men have clearly arrived at the basis of an ethic, grounded

on reality and on the natural laws of the human organism.

If Crusoe had eaten the mushrooms without learning of their poisonous

effects, then his decision would have been incorrect-a possibly tragic

error based on the fact that man is scarcely automatically determined to

make correct decisions at all times. Hence, his lack of omniscience and his

liability to error. If Crusoe, on the other hand, had known of the poison

and eaten the mushrooms anyway-perhaps for "kicks" or from a very high

time preference-then his decision would have been objectively immoral,

an act deliberately set against his life and health. It may well be asked why

life should be an objective ultimate value, why man should opt for life (in

duration and q~al i ty)I.n~ r eply, we may note that a proposition rises to

the status of an axiom when he who denies it may be shown to be using it

in the very course of the supposed ref~tationN.~ow , any person participating

that he is making judgments and at the same time that he is being determined by a

foreign cause to do so. For if that were true, what would be the status of the judgment

that he is determined? This argument was used by Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the

Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H. J. Paton (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), pp. 115f.in any sort of discussion, including one on values, is, by virtue of so participating,

alive and affirming life. For if he were really opposed to life,

he would have no business in such a discussion, indeed he would have

no business continuing to be alive. Hence, the supposed opponent of life

is really affirming it in the very process of his discussion, and hence the

preservation and furtherance of one's life takes on the stature of an incontestable


We have seen that Crusoe, as in the case of any man, has freedom of

will, freedom to choose the course of his life and his actions. Some critics

have charged that this freedom is illusory because man is bound by natural

laws. This, however, is a misrepresentation-one of the many examples

of the persistent modem confusion between freedom and power. Man is

free to adopt values and to choose his actions; but this does not at all

mean that he may violate natural laws with impunity-that he may, for

example, leap oceans at a single bound. In short, when we say that "man

is not 'free' to leap the ocean,"we are really discussing not his lack of

freedom but his lack of power to cross the ocean, given the laws of his

nature and of the nature of the world. Crusoe's freedom to adopt ideas, to

choose his ends, is inviolable and inalienable; on the other hand, man,

not being omnipotent as well as not being omniscient, always finds his

power limited for doing all the things that he would like to do. In short,

his power is necessarily limited by natural laws, but not his freedom of

will. To put the case another way it is patently absurd to define the "freedom"

of an entity as its power to perform an act impossible for its nature!7

If a man's free will to adopt ideas and values is inalienable, hispeedom

of action-his freedom to put these ideas into effect in the world, is

not in such a fortunate condition. Again, we are not talking about the limitations

on man's power inherent in the laws of his own nature and of the

natures of other entities. What we are talking about now is interference

with his sphere of action by other people-but here we are getting a bit

ahead of Robinson Crusoe and our discussion. Suffice it to say now that,

in the sense of social freedom-of freedom as absence of molestation by other

persons--Crusoe is absolutely free, but that a world of more than one person

requires our further investigation.

Since, in this book, we are interested in social and political

philosophy rather than in philosophy proper, we shall be interested in

the term "freedom" in this social or interpersonal sense, rather than in

the sense of freedom of wilLs

Let us now return to our analysis of Crusoe's purposeful transformation

of nature-given data though the understanding of natural laws.

Crusoe finds virgin, unused land on the island; land, in short, unused

and uncontrolled by anyone, and hence unowned. By finding land resources,

by learning how to use them, and, in particular, by actually transforming

them into a more useful shape, Crusoe has, in the memorable phrase of John

Locke, "mixed his labor with the soil." In doing so, in stamping the imprint

of his personality and his energy on the land, he has naturally converted

the land and its fruits into his property. Hence, the isolated man owns what

he uses and transforms; therefore, in his case there is no problem of what

should be A's property as against B's. Any man's property is ips0 facto what

he produces, i-e., what he transforms into use by his own effort. His

property in land and capital goods continues down the various stages of

production, until Crusoe comes to own the consumer goods which he has

produced, until they finally disappear through his consumption of them.

As long as an individual remains isolated, then, there is no problem

whatever about how far his property-his ownership-extends; as a

rational being with free will, it extends over his own body, and it extends

further over the material goods which he transforms with his labor.

Suppose that Crusoe had landed not on a small island, but on a new and

virgin continent, and that, standing on the shore, he had claimed

"ownership" of the entire new continent by virtue of his prior discovery.

This assertion would be sheer empty vainglory, so long as no one else

came upon the continent. For the natural fact is that his true propertyhis

actual control over material goods-would extend only so far as his

actual labor brought them into production. His true ownership could

not extend beyond the power of his own reach.9 Similarly, it would be

empty and meaningless for Crusoe to trumpet that he does not "really"

own some or all of what he has produced (perhaps this Crusoe happens

to be a romantic opponent of the property concept), for in fact the use

and therefore the ownership has already been his. Crusoe, in natural fact,

owns his own self and the extension of his self into the material world,

neither more nor less.

that liberty is generally used only in the social, and not in the purely philosophic free-will

sense, and is also less confused with the concept of power. For an excellent discussion of

free will, see J.R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).