There is no action without means. Means are resource. To act is to act with means. Is there action? There is a means.
Means are employed. Means are used. Means are invested, but not all of them normally. You can probably feel the proximity to the notions of value and cost. We will be there soon, but before getting there we should note the means that are available for satisfying ends.
Just as the end must be an end for someone, a determination of a determiner, the means must be valued by someone for an end in order to be means. Some means are general in their usefulness for reaching ends–money. Some means are highly specialized–the tungsten or rhenium used in manufacturing specialized engines.
Some different types of means to consider: the human body and all of its parts. The body can be in different conditions and have different abilities. So, its status as means is to that degree relative to development or undevelopment.
Money is often a means. I prefer the term capital. Capital formation is through the act of saving. The act of saving has an end. It requires a means. In one sense the means are money not spent. Another means is restraint (virtue). The proper way, says the Puritanical Libertarian (along with others), to acquire the means which can be saved, is through putting the not owned to first use, production from what is owned, or voluntary trade. All of this requires the use of body and so much more.
Unowned or owned nature can be means for owners or non-owners. The distinction must be noted. Slavery, assault, theft exist by using other humans or their property as a means to an end only. It is the flower of Kant who most made this truth readily available. The misuse of the dictum promotes the enslavement of the rich on behalf of the poor in a mistaken attempt to read more into the dictum than is there. My sense is that the likes of from John Rawls to Gerald Cohen think they adhere to the Kantian maxim. Alas. We are not interested in promoting the aggression against another’s owned property. But in order to understand action we must understand that this constitutes a whole range of acts which must be understood.
Know-how, recipes, procedures, mastery are means. Thomas Sowell, in the immensity and breadth of his research data collected, has done most for me to help me understand that this particular means travels the fastest and the most efficiently in free trade. He unpacks the role of geography, the role of the presence of pack animals, the spread of common language necessary for contract, the role of navigable waterways for movement. These are all means if they are acquired and put to use by those who have ends that they wish to satisfy.
I will not go any further in the elaboration of the matching up of more particular means and ends here. Many of the matches have been forgotten with changing technology. Many of the matches have likely not been made yet waiting for the act of discovery. Think about how the means of “fracking” turned the US into the premier exporter of oil destabilizing the global cartel and at least influencing the continued spiral of Venezuela, the disagreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and so on.
Means are scarce. Ends are not. It is precisely the scarcity, a combination of value and finitude, that makes conflict such a risk. It is the fact that the same means can be employed in different ways and that one way alone is possible, and that those who could employ the means disagree on what precisely would be best that explains the palpable risk of conflict. The value of the anarcho-capitalist property rights framework above its apriori determined truth is palpable once the risk of conflict related to the scarcity of means and the infinity of ends is appreciated.
What I find is that my students commonly think differently. Who or what has tricked them? They think ends are rather obvious and similar, means are rather plentiful, and greed is rather explanatory (always the evil capitalist/monpolist). This, in reduced form, is the world to them. They say “We”, the enlightened ones, will go to war against the rich, acquire the means to the satisfaction of ends, and then distribute them “fairly”. The effort to disabuse them of the simplicity of their portrayal earns scorn and ostracization. Fortunately, to be ostracized by the ignorant and passionate is no evil. They do me a good. And there are always a few who themselves begin to see the silliness with which the wannabe totalitarians speak.
A few more moments on means coming up.
3.4.2, Whether a distinction can be made between moral means and material means.
3.4.3, On the Kantian dictum and how the apriori of means unfolds morally.
3.4.4, On the anarcho-capitalist solution to the risk of conflict involving means.