In the previous discussion on ownership and property, Lee Gold said the following: “I own my thoughts and my actions — at least to the extent that I am willing to stand up for them.” This is a very interesting remark, and set me to thinking. Let me see if I can both work this out and express it (usually the same process for me). We’re going to ignore the fact that this remark makes “ownership” meaningless because it ignores the role of the State, which is what defines ownership. I’m going in a different direction.
My American Heritage Dictionary (I less than three my American Heritage Dictionary) defines the noun “abstract” to mean, “The concentrated essence of a larger whole.” More important for this discussion are two of the definitions of the transitive verb: ” 1. To take away, remove.” and “3. To consider theoretically.”
To abstract, as I’m using it here, means to mentally pull a part out of the whole. Abstracting, in this sense, is a necessary part of thought. In order to count the number of books on my shelf, I must abstract the quantity–that is, consider nothing about them except the number. Abstraction is a prerequisite for object permanence, a vital stage in human development. That our minds are able to do this is, obviously, a key element of thought; but, “this power must be used only for Good;” that is, we are able to do it incorrectly. Because we have imagination, we are perfectly capable of making invalid or false abstractions–that is, abstractions that do not accurately reflect real world processes and conditions. To take an obvious example, we can consider only the backbones of snails, but it won’t get us very far as snails, like Democratic politicians, lack backbones (okay, sorry, that was mean). We can also abstract the backbones of snakes in order to consider, for example, how snakes move. But this is something we do in our minds; in reality, if you remove the backbone, you no longer have a snake–you have snakeskin, some random organs, a couple of souvenirs, and a decent meal if you know how to prepare it.
The comment I quoted at the start of the post above is an interesting case. By saying, “I own this,” or even, “I possess this,” we are abstracting the thing from ourselves. The idea, “I own my actions,” or, “I own my thoughts,” implies “I possess my thoughts” or “I possess my actions.” This has as much meaning as, “I own my leg,” or, “I possess my leg.” This has significance today in, for example, the fight for reproductive rights of women–to what extent do you have the right to the control parts of your own anatomy? But philosophically, what is happening by formulating it in that way, is that you are abstracting a part of yourself, and treating it as if it were separate from the whole. Clearly, if my leg were amputated, stuffed, and given to me, no one would argue that I don’t possess my leg. I should prefer to avoid this experience. In reality, my leg is a part of me. I would argue that this is a false abstraction. I do not possess my thoughts, and I certainly don’t own them–rather, they are a part of the unity that is me.
Okay, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. If you enjoyed reading this anywhere near as much as I enjoyed writing it, seek professional help. I have no shame, but, hey, at least I own it.