Minor response to your criticism of Eric S. Raymond

Francois-Rene Rideau fare@tunes.org
Sat, 26 Dec 1998 19:09:19 +0100

Dear readers,
   here is a reply to the e-mail from Kirk Wylie
that I previously bounced to this mailing-list.
Kirk's message referred to my article "About Eric S. Raymond's Articles"
which itself was a reply to Eric S. Raymond's well-known essays,
"The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and "Homesteading the Noosphere":

Dear Kirk,
> In your section "An introductory confusion" (and note that since I am not
> proficient in French, I refer only to the english version of your article),
There is (currently) no french version of this particular article.

> you discuss the difference between an a priori dogmatic view of moral and
> ethical correctness and an aposteriori observational view of moral and
> ethical correctness.
Indeed. Well, actually I only mention it,
since space was lacking for a real in-depth discussion.
I'm currently writing another essay which tries to cover this topic:

> In doing so you seemingly lump together your views on
> moral and ethical correctness.
Yes I did. These are not foreign subjects,
and I am not one of those relativists who think that all views are equal.

> (Mr. Raymond refers specifically to morality,
> you refer specifically to ethics,
Unless you're in a well-defined special context, both words are the same.
Certainly, it is possible (and sometimes useful)
to narrow differently the meaning of each word,
but unless this is explicitly done somewhere,
there is no reason to assume a difference in any text.

> Morality is intrinsically dogmatic in nature:
Why should it be? Oh, you may *define* it so.
But AFAIK, the common notion doesn't have such restriction,
and at least, I certainly didn't use the word with that restriction.
Does that deserve a note in my article?

> However, ethics derives naturally from morality as an enforcable, arguable
> view of what is Right and Wrong.
Ethics is arguable only in as much as it doesn't derive from dogmas.

> As an example, I as a Buddhist have no
> moral problem with not paying my taxes; I as a member of a Social Contract
> have an ethical problem with not paying my taxes.
"If I ignore what a FOO is, I don't say a thing about BARing FOOs,
but if I consider my knowledge of what a FOO is, then I have an opinion".
Sure enough, ethical judgements do depend on their knowledge base.
No big surprise! I won't praise or condemn someone/something I don't know;
so as to have/give an ethical opinion on it, I have to know it!

> If you can state that something is factually accurate and correct, then it
> is not arguable nor debatable.
"If". Now, the argument will precisely happen about that "if"!
Of course, *after we agree on a point*, we're supposed not to disagree
on it anymore! At least, not until some fresh arguments arise. But why are
we to agree on any particular point?

> Therefore it cannot be ethical in nature.
Not relatively to a context where it would already have been settled.
Ethics has to do with the future, the unknown, not with the past, the known.

> When you begin to
> argue that ethics can encompass factual statements (or even hypothesis...
> while I might not know what the circumference of the world is, I can make a
> hypothesis about it; even if my hypothesis is never proven, I have made a
> statement of potential fact), you begin to remove arguments about scientific
> reality from the realm of the scientists into the realm of the cultural
> relativists.
If ethics couldn't encompass factual statements,
it would be utterly pointless!
Ethics, like *any* knowledge (in the broadest meaning of the word),
is better approached with the scientifical method of
imagination filtered by careful the scrutiny of reason and skeptic peers.
And like *most* knowledge, it cannot earn the title of "science",
because its limited relevance make it impossible to reliably share
with "enough" people to get wide-range/long-term discussion and agreement.

Any paradox in what you say come from an arbitrary (and changing) association
of some knowledge with a dogmatic epistemological process.
About dogmas, let me just quote fortune:
   To argue that gaps in knowledge which will confront the seeker
   must be filled, not by patient inquiry, but by intuition or revelation,
   is simply to give ignorance a gratuitous and preposterous dignity....
      - H. L. Mencken, 1930

> Ethics are arguments about what is Right and Wrong, not what is right or
> wrong (note the capitols used for emphasis).
I deny any value to these capitals.

> Thus, the real problem I have is with your assertion that morals may be a
> posteriori and descriptive rather than dogmatically a priori and
> proscriptive,
The association of a posteriori with descriptive and
of a priori with prescriptive seems completely wrong-headed to me.

> And as an aside, which has nothing to do with my above statements, I turn to
> your section "Freedom Against Software Ownership," in which you state
> "Claimed ownership of ideas, which is what free software people call
> "information hoarding", is but protectionism applied to information
> processing services..."
> The one thing that I'm not sure from this statement that you've considered,
> is whether the service in question is the processing, or whether it is the
> writing of code.
Both, which seems very clear to me
from the paragraph just above the one you're quoting.

> should [some people] be permitted to charge a fee for their writing of code?
Of course! That's a matter of elementary freedom.
Please re-read any basic text on the notion of SERVICE.
If you read french, I'd direct you to my page of texts by Bastiat...

> If so, and there is no ownership of code, then
> the implied result is that the resultant code has no economic value.
Not at all! Let me quote myself (sorry):
   I do agree to pay for the *opportunity* to read a book or use a program;
   I do not agree to pay for the *right* to do so.
The *opportunity* has a natural economic value.
The "right" doesn't, unless some artificial law interferes.

> It may
> be given away, it may be bartered, or traded, or sold, or scattered to the
> winds, without any thought as to the craftsmen who wrought it.
Do you often think about the makers of the alphabet? of english?
of elementary math/geometry/whatever?
Besides, all great piece of knowledge,
even when "invented by a one man" (cyrillic alphabet),
depend on a large body of slowly accumulated culture.
You just cannot think of all the craftsmen who elaborated
the simplest everyday item you use.

> An additional diversion that I might propose is the sale of compiled
> executables.
Executables have no intrinsic value.
Now, my article does talk about selling availability, trust, etc,

> If I distribute the binaries for
> free, and I keep the source code a secret (not implying that I have any
> ownership rights to it, but rather that I completely control access to it),
> have I committed an ethical Wrong (assuming you believe that one exists in
> any Information Property Right situation)?
Certainly not.
Free Information is not incompatible with SECRET
(it even DOES support such things as cryptography).
It is incompatible with PRIVILEDGES
and other "rights" on the use of information.
Now, only dumb people would trust
a black-box binary for an important job (unless the result is checkable),
and a binary-only software for stable/long-term development.

> Finally, your arguments about liberalism appear to fail in one key aspect:
> They reject the ability of an individual to enter into an agreement in which
> his rights are limited.
The abolition of slavedom, the work legislation, the various rules that
enforce minimal qualities (mostly concerning health and security) for some
goods and services, are limitations of "rights", yet are progress:
no one may sell oneself as a slave; no one may sign a contract forcing oneself
to work more than X hours per week; no children may be forced to work,
even with his and his parents' agreement; no one may sell rotten food,
or devices that may explode in casual circumstances, or otherwise endanger
customers, even with their agreement. Other legislation forbid such things as
public call for murder, or teaching some reportedly dangerous
religions/ideologies to children, or driving without a license, etc,
independently of actual liabilities due to actual consequential murder,
accidents, etc.

I don't think all these limitations come as "universal rights/duties",
but I sure do think, that "progress" if it means anything
encompasses such limitations as these.
Of course, limitations are dangerous, and shall be handled with extreme care;
liberty should always be the default, unless opposed with overwhelming

> Assume that there are craftsmen who are willing to provide you with an
> running program, supposing that you do not modify it and you do not share it
> with others. If you do not agree to these terms, they will not release the
> program to you, regardless of their lack of rights w.r.t. this matter. You
> agree to these terms, and provide them with money.

> In a world without IPR, you are prohibited from entering into this
> agreement.
No you are not, unless laws enforces some kind of non-limitation rules
in informational transactions that are more than just lack of IPRs.
Lack of IPRs means you may, as long as you don't infringe on their essential
liberties (such as right to think, and act based on the best of one's
knowledge), have agreements with people such that they will keep some
information secret. Only, you can't sue anyone out of some dubious "implied"
contract (such as "if you open this seal, you agree to sell your soul to us"),
unless the contract is explicitly enforced by law in all occasions;
you can't sue a non-contracting third party who'd have somehow acquired
some information, and then used it, analyzed it, modified it, republished it.
If you wish to distribute closed-source software, that's your right
(though your customers are dumb). If you wish to forbid people to
use, reverse-engineer, modify, redistribute, copies of your software,
it's no more your right.

Laws may even limit the right of greedy people to exploit
the dumbness, poorness, or otherwise helplessness of potential customers.
But then it's no more just lack of IPRs,
it's also an active defense of the consumer.
Now, this defense may very well be achieved outside of law,
through a tradition (and some paralegal institutions) of vigilance;
but law may later want to enforce such a tradition,
to help fight what is recognized as crookery,
and thus enhance the level of common mutual trust
that constitutes the social tissue.
Law can thus be beneficial to the common welfare.
Of course, there is a danger in law trying to settle things
where balance is not reached or not otherwise known,
as it may cast into iron the disbalance rather than the balance.
This is why I believe that all laws,
except perhaps the most fundamental ones,
should have a time limit beyond which
they must have been replaced or explicitly reconducted,
so as to prevent too great an inadequacy of law
with respect to the society it tries to regulate.

> The society which has banned these rights has also limited your
> right to enter into consentual agreements with others. I reject any notion
> that I may be prohibited from agreeing to voluntarily limit my rights under
> circumstances which are desirable to me.
Do you reject the notion that you may not be trapped into slavedom
by any kind of contract to which you may voluntarily agree
[at least, not with any legal force]?
Do you reject the notion that no one may sell you poisonous food,
even though you may be willing to buy it,
and be convinced that it is innocuous?
Do you reject the notion that you can't mortgage your own very life?
Do you reject the notion that school be compulsory up to some age?
Do you reject the notion that you may not engage in sexual relations
with willing children whose parents are willing too?

More generally, do you reject the notion that law may forbid anything
that only visibly concerns consenting individuals?
For let's not forget that even when two individuals agree,
other individuals may be indirectly affected.
When a few vendors create a trust, the consumers suffer.
When a crook abuses children with impunity,
no parent may leave their children alone a single second.
When someone may forge checks with impunity, no one will accept checks.
When people are allowed to drive without a license,
everyone in the street is scared, even when not killed.

> Ultimately you are faced with a truly ethical conundrum (and I deal only
> with software...if you view ALL IPRs, there are far more serious
> reprecussions):
> 1) You may allow current IPRs to exist with developers free to eschew those
> rights and issue code under a BSD or GPL style license,
> or
> 2) You limit the rights of individuals to enter into consentual agreements
> with others which do not harm parties who are not a part of this agreement.
IPRs as they exist are NOT an agreement between parties.
They are a PRIVILEDGE granted by law.
You're bound by copyrights and patents even though you disagree,
and never signed any agreement.
The artificial pressure of IPRs also introduces disbalance in agreement
that may be passed regarding exchange of information,
so that current "willing" contracts should not be considered fair,
but extremely biased in favor of publishers,
and other brokers and accumulators of intellectual priviledges.

> Option (1) is the world in which we currently live, option (2) clearly fails
> any reasonable standard for liberty (see John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" or
> Jean Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract" for considerable background
> into this issue...I can provide specific quotations if needed).
I'm not quite sure that Rousseau is a reasonable reference for anything;
besides, I invite you to re-read chapter 4 of Mill's "On Liberty":
"On the limits to the authority of society over the individual",
which dispells the Rousseauistic myth of social contract,
and justifies that society may bind individuals
to not infringe each other's liberties.


[ "Faré" | VN: Уng-Vû Bân | Join the TUNES project!   http://www.tunes.org/  ]
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