Do natural rights exist?

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Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:26 pm UTC

Do you think that natural rights exist? That is, rights that are not created by humans (in the form of a social contract, government, etc.) but are rather inherent in being human (or sentient, or X standard).

Every political philosophy that I've heard of (that includes natural rights) either simply asserts their existence, or tries to derive them from the abilities we have in a "state of nature", without justifying the leap from being capable of something to having an inherent right to do something.

It seems to me that "natural rights" are ultimately subjective statements of one's own desires - saying that "Humans have a right to X" means nothing more than "I want everyone to have X". But people typically describe natural rights as if they had an objective existence (such as arguing that a person's rights are being violated, even if there is no government or social contract guaranteeing them in the first place). Is there any good reason to think that these rights exist in any objective manner, or that violating them contradicts anything more than the preferences of a lot of people?
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 07, 2009 4:44 pm UTC

The concept of rights exist only in our mind. It's a belief system. If we stop believing that "Humans have a right to X" we suddenly don't have that right anymore.

Having said that, I think having a large body of people believing it's true (not just useful) is important. Belief in truth is more important than truth.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby General_Norris » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:27 pm UTC

They are ideas, they don't really "exist". It's the same question as "Do numbers exist?"

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby BlackSails » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:38 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:They are ideas, they don't really "exist". It's the same question as "Do numbers exist?"


Darn, you beat me to it.

Does the sine function exist without someone to think it up?

Its the same question, and not one that is answerable (or that matters)

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:42 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
General_Norris wrote:They are ideas, they don't really "exist". It's the same question as "Do numbers exist?"


Darn, you beat me to it.

Does the sine function exist without someone to think it up?

Its the same question, and not one that is answerable (or that matters)


Though it seems like there is at least one huge difference there. Mathematics is a useful tool for predicting what we will find in the world, while "rights" is a tool for changing behavior, not predicting anything about external reality.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:45 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:Does the sine function exist without someone to think it up?

Its the same question, and not one that is answerable (or that matters)

But it does matter if people believe in rights. They're existence is not testable, but the belief in them matters a lot.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:07 pm UTC

I would think that their recognition and enforcement would serve a good starting point towards the claim that humanity is indeed unique among the creatures of this planet. As to what those loosely defined rights are is another matter.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby BlackSails » Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:59 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
BlackSails wrote:Does the sine function exist without someone to think it up?

Its the same question, and not one that is answerable (or that matters)

But it does matter if people believe in rights. They're existence is not testable, but the belief in them matters a lot.


Yeah, but belief has nothing to do with if they actually exist, since there cannot be emperical evidence.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby General_Norris » Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:24 pm UTC

In other words. They are not matter, they don't exist.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't exist either. Sexism doesn't exist. Ideas don't exist because they are not matter.


What you are trying to ask is where do those "rights" come from. The stem from the asumption that there are several rational beings in the universe.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Dark567 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 7:45 pm UTC

I like Nozick's argument for rights, which derives from Kant's "people should never be treated as an end to a means, but as a end in of them selves" philosophy of ethics. It's easy to see how this system of ethics would easily lend it self to natural rights. So most of the argument rests on the shoulders of Kant's moral argument.

The reason most political philosophies just assert natural rights is that the justification for them is out of their domain. Natural rights are usually justified through some moral philosophy, most commonly Kantian or Utilitarian ethics.

So with that I would say I am about 60-40 for natural rights. I tend to agree with Kantian ethics and Nozicks interpertation, but I could be pretty easily be convinced of nihilism, in which case Natural rights go out the window.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 07, 2009 8:13 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:In other words. They are not matter, they don't exist.

I don't buy this notion. I suppose it comes down to our definition of "exist", but I bet most people use a different one and would agree with the notion that sexism exists.

Regarding rights, I think the better question is whether we invented them, or are they more fundamental than that? If we invented them, why can't we invent new ones where some people have less rights than others?

In reality I think we did invent them, but we need to believe we didn't. Rights are about usefulness, not truth. And I suspect part of the usefulness is derived from the belief that it's true, not merely useful.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 8:13 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:In other words. They are not matter, they don't exist.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't exist either. Sexism doesn't exist. Ideas don't exist because they are not matter.


Well yeah, in that sense morality clearly exists as an *idea*, but the question is whether it exists as anything other than an idea, whether violating them is anything more than not following one particular set of human-constructed rules (just as there are many human-constructed sets rules one doesn't follow). Because the idea behind natural rights is that if a government says: "You don't have the right to X" they are somehow incorrect.

EDIT: On the subject of existence, I think there are some different meanings of it. Sherlock Holmes exists only in people's minds; he would still exist in that sense even if countless facts about physical reality were different (as long as he was still in some people's minds or recorded in a way that he would exist in people's minds after interpreting whichever medium he's recorded in). But with something like sexism there's a sense in which changing physical reality could cause it to stop existing. If identifiable sex suddenly ceased to exist, then in one sense sexism would cease to exist, though it could still exist in the Sherlock Holmes sense. So the big question is whether rights exist in the Sherlock Holmes sense (in which case countless contradictory rights can exist as long as they are in at least one mind) or if they have a type of existence that depends on more than being thought of by at least one person.

General_Norris wrote:What you are trying to ask is where do those "rights" come from. The stem from the assumption that there are several rational beings in the universe.


Under what seems like the standard definition of "rational" (something like, "able to effectively use deductive and inductive reasoning") I don't see how rights follow. There is no empirical evidence that they exist as things that "should" be upheld (obviously, since you can't empirically prove a moral imperative), and they don't follow necessarily from the logical premises required to make sense of the world (i.e. it is easily possible to have a functional model of the world that does not include rights).

guenther wrote:In reality I think we did invent them, but we need to believe we didn't. Rights are about usefulness, not truth. And I suspect part of the usefulness is derived from the belief that it's true, not merely useful.


I don't really understand this. What do you mean that we "need" to believe that we didn't invent rights? Has believing that we did invent them significantly hampered you in life? Or do you think there are circumstances that make you an exception to the general need for that belief?
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 07, 2009 8:30 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:I don't really understand this. What do you mean that we "need" to believe that we didn't invent rights? Has believing that we did invent them significantly hampered you in life? Or do you think there are circumstances that make you an exception to the general need for that belief?

"We need to" in the big picture sense. If society believed they were invented and amendable, I think we'd see results that we would find intuitively bad. We need to hold them to a fundamental importance that our evidence-based view of reality can't support.

Individually, "we need" statements have a lot of variability from person to person. We need companionship, but some people are quite happy alone. So it's a generalization.

And personally I am not an exception. I need to believe it too. But my belief is based in faith, not evidence.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Le1bn1z » Fri Oct 09, 2009 7:27 pm UTC

I hope this will clear some things up for the person who started this board, setzner777.

From what I understand, your questions is: "Are there truly universal rights that attach to humans mutual relations between one another, as conditions of their existence, or are all "rights" simply arbitrary conventions, clauses of hammered-out agreements that form our social order?"

Actually, despite what you say, there is an enormous corpus of work that deals with the "proofs" of natural rights. Unfortunately, the debate often gets bogged down in the specific language we choose to use. Since the American Revolution, people insist on talking about "rights" as though the key to democratic ethics were the specific rules that make up the contract, rather than a broader rule or "right" that governs relations.

Most of the classical modern theorists talk about the concept of equity, which went out of fashion in the USA because it was constantly used to blast the institution of slavery (the American Revolution began within months of news of the first equity ruling against slavery from a British court arriving in the colonies. Mansfield's decision on Sommerset (1772) was the only piece of British case law NOT dealing with the rights of the Monarch not taken up by American precedence law. This has tainted American legal and political philosophy for centuries. But I digress.)

Equity is the principal of basic equality in interpersonal relations. Basically, it opperates under the "do unto others" principle. The rule of equity is that you can't do something or deny something to someone else if you can't make the maxim or purpose of your action a universal rule. (Not in the stupid way that Kant puts it, but in the common sense way.)

An obvious example is the right not to be murdered. You wouldn't want someone else to kill you for personal gain, pleasure or out of insecurity so you can't, in right, do it to them. The purpose and intent are crucial to understanding universal right, because you might be okay with killing out of self defense. In this case, you wouldn't deny yourself the right to kill to save yourself from an attacker, so how can you begrudge the guy who killed your brother out of self defense?

This rule of equity can exist without formal agreement between individuals, and, indeed, serves as the animating principle in civil suits in the USA and Commonwealth of Nations, which how courts can function in the abscense of written law.

Of course, one might argue that, as a practical matter, no rights exist without a means to enforce them, but that's not strictly true. A right is a logical construct, arrived upon by an appeal to reason. The rules of some rights are as certain as the rules of mathematics. Just because someone chooses to ignore them, doesn't make them "unreal," simply "unrealised."

The precise nature of rights change often along with the needs and abilities of any given society. The fundamental right, however, is for everyone to be treated as a human being, with an end in him or herself. To paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence; we might not always have the same rights and dignities in every society and place, but whatever they are, all humans are equal in dignity and rights. That equality is what makes "right" universal.

If you're still bleary about universiality of rights, the best classics on the subject are Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan (especially the first 60 pages) and Discourse with a student of the Common Law of England, J.S. Mill's "The Subjugation of Women" and "On Liberty" and G.W. Leibniz's "Meditation upon the Common Concept of Justice." Yes, even Hobbes, who believed that pretty much believed that all laws were arbitrary conventions still believed in a small handful of universal rights.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Heretical Mind » Sat Oct 10, 2009 5:23 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:
BlackSails wrote:
General_Norris wrote:They are ideas, they don't really "exist". It's the same question as "Do numbers exist?"


Darn, you beat me to it.

Does the sine function exist without someone to think it up?

Its the same question, and not one that is answerable (or that matters)


Though it seems like there is at least one huge difference there. Mathematics is a useful tool for predicting what we will find in the world, while "rights" is a tool for changing behavior, not predicting anything about external reality.


Just throwing this in here for the hell of it: if you know the mental structure a person is operating under, you can use that to calculate their actions in much the same way mathematics mirrors reality. In a nutshell- knowing what they believe = educated guess at their future actions. Alter what they believe, alter their actions.

And then quit your day job and become dictator of the world.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Charlie! » Mon Oct 12, 2009 2:54 pm UTC

Le1bn1z wrote:A right is a logical construct, arrived upon by an appeal to reason.
Well, maybe not necessarily reason. If everyone agrees that it's a right, even if it's based on emotion, it counts.

The rules of some rights are as certain as the rules of mathematics.
Given the right starting assumptions, of course. For example, equity isn't considered so important in rural India, so arguments from that are likely to fail where they run into stronger social conventions, even if they'd work in, say, Lichtenstein.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 3:03 pm UTC

The problem I have with rights as logical constructs is that they usually seem to rest on assumptions that are very easy to reject while still having a coherent model of reality.

For example, the "do unto others" principle rests on the assumption that all humans should be treated equally, and that you shouldn't alter your desires or actions based on a difference such as one person being *you* and everyone else not being you. But you can be perfectly logically consistent while treating yourself differently than you treat everyone else, and caring about your own desires while caring less about others'.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby oreoexpo » Mon Oct 12, 2009 3:47 pm UTC

Natural rights exist, derived not from God, the government, or the constitution, but from man's nature and from the view that man's life and happiness are ends in themselves. They are what human beings require in order to live and function, both alone and in groups. They exist in the same sense that the sine wave or numbers exist; there may not be a physicsal number 9 lying around, but that doesn't mean the concept of having 9 objects is unreal or useless. Some people may think rights are just a social construct or a useful tool, but look at any society that tries to make man live for something other than his own life and happiness (Soviet Russia, for example) and tell me whether you want to live there, under those premises. No more than a mathmatician would want to teach at a university of mathematics that treated numbers as a mere social construct, unnecessary for writing equations. Ideas are real so long as they are based in reality and can be used to explain and predict reality, they do not have to have a literal physical representation.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby mikhail » Mon Oct 12, 2009 3:52 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:The problem I have with rights as logical constructs is that they usually seem to rest on assumptions that are very easy to reject while still having a coherent model of reality.

The problem I have with rights is that they seem to foster a sense of entitlement. How about we talk about human responsibilities? Not a right to life, but a responsibility to preserve it. Not a right to liberty but a responsibility to vote and act in a manner which preserves it.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 4:20 pm UTC

oreoexpo wrote:Natural rights exist, derived not from God, the government, or the constitution, but from man's nature and from the view that man's life and happiness are ends in themselves.


I agree that humans naturally live for their own happiness. Here's the critical distinction I make (and I'm not saying you don't, just clarifying) - a person's happiness is an end in itself *for them*. But not necessarily for anyone else. It seems like some philosophers suggest that something can be "an end in itself" without being an end to a specific mind. This I disagree with - to say that something is "an end"* is to describe a relationship between it and at least one mind (i.e. that mind prioritizes that thing as a goal).

*And "end it itself" simply means that the mind isn't considering it as a means towards a different end.

Now of course people realize that having a set of rights is useful for every individual in a group to achieve their own happiness, but that's essentially social contract theory, which I have no problem with. "Natural rights" implies something existing independently of human belief and custom, and this is what I have a problem with.


EDIT: Just to avoid possible misunderstanding - I'm not arguing that humans are totally selfish beings, but I think that non-selfishness can better be described by things like empathy, upbringing, and emotional attachments; than by the concept of natural rights that are inherent in all humans.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby mrdoe » Mon Oct 12, 2009 7:24 pm UTC

I'll help you with this one. Does God exist?
He (she?) doesn't? How do you know?

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:26 pm UTC

oreoexpo wrote:Natural rights exist, derived not from God, the government, or the constitution, but from man's nature and from the view that man's life and happiness are ends in themselves. They are what human beings require in order to live and function, both alone and in groups. They exist in the same sense that the sine wave or numbers exist; there may not be a physicsal number 9 lying around, but that doesn't mean the concept of having 9 objects is unreal or useless. Some people may think rights are just a social construct or a useful tool, but look at any society that tries to make man live for something other than his own life and happiness (Soviet Russia, for example) and tell me whether you want to live there, under those premises. No more than a mathmatician would want to teach at a university of mathematics that treated numbers as a mere social construct, unnecessary for writing equations. Ideas are real so long as they are based in reality and can be used to explain and predict reality, they do not have to have a literal physical representation.

The problem with comparing rights to math is that for every sine function there's a Weierstrass function. And for every right to happiness there's a right to all bananas. The world of math doesn't limit the infinite set of possible rights.

The problem with comparing rights to usefulness is that it's impractical. I actually believe this is the correct objective metric, but we can't measure it or even define it. If a particular right is universally upheld, then we can guess it's useful somehow. If a particular right is universally rejected, then we can guess it'd be pretty damaging. But for the big middle ground, usefulness doesn't give us much insight.

As an example, suppose society grants unborn babies all the rights that born babies receive. But over time, we measure bad negative side effects (perhaps an increase in population, number of uneducated, and incidence of crime). Then people will stop believing in the those rights, and now the rights are undone. We could do the same analogy with gay marriage. The only engine powerful enough to calculate effectiveness is real life. We have to live and experience it to know.

The problem with comparing rights to social contracts is that contracts can be undone. They were made by man and can be taken away by man. If we believe that, say, the right to vote can be removed from blacks, women, old, uneducated, etc., then we have a very powerful political tool. Groups with lots of money can manufacture reasons why the importance of removing a right outweighs the importance of granting the right ("No one want to take away their vote, but what choice do we have!"). However, if taking away rights is simply wrong, then an appeal to evidence doesn't matter.

My theory is that belief is a necessary part to why rights are useful. And the belief "We have a right to pursue happiness" is vulnerable to all the same challenges that exist for "We have a God that loves us".
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:54 pm UTC

guenther wrote:The problem with comparing rights to social contracts is that contracts can be undone. They were made by man and can be taken away by man. If we believe that, say, the right to vote can be removed from blacks, women, old, uneducated, etc., then we have a very powerful political tool. Groups with lots of money can manufacture reasons why the importance of removing a right outweighs the importance of granting the right ("No one want to take away their vote, but what choice do we have!"). However, if taking away rights is simply wrong, then an appeal to evidence doesn't matter.

My theory is that belief is a necessary part to why rights are useful. And the belief "We have a right to pursue happiness" is vulnerable to all the same challenges that exist for "We have a God that loves us".


That sounds plausible, and rather troubling. It means that one who doesn't believe that taking away rights is "simply wrong", but wants to avoid the political consequences of that being widespread must either:

A. Try to make oneself believe that proposition ("taking away rights is 'simply wrong') despite that lack of compelling reasons (that is compelling reasons to think that the idea is reflective of objective reality)

B. Create a categorical divide between the general population (who mustn't believe that rights can be revoked) and the enlightened few (which would include oneself) who realize that rights are completely revocable.

(A) goes against the way any non-pragmatist want to form beliefs (i.e. anyone who doesn't want to base belief about reality on the political outcome of that belief); while (B) seems like the height of intellectual arrogance (thinking that you can handle the truth but the general population cannot).
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby King of Frogs » Tue Oct 13, 2009 1:56 am UTC

As someone who would generally consider themselves to be something along the lines of a concequentialist or a moral pragmatist I would reject the idea of non-socially constructed rights.

Certainly rights are a very useful way of organising the desired moral system of a particular group of people, but I see no reason to say we are necessarily entitled to certain things in life purely because we are human. There is nothing I can see about being human which means we have an objectively different moral standing to anything else in the universe. It can only be the human desire for social harmony, a sort of mutual self-interest, which can define what rights we want to give ourselves.

I would argue that it makes sense for a group of people, in setting up a code of laws to say that all members of this group shall have the right to their own life if all the people making the laws wish to maintian control over their own lives, similarly with such things as stealing, rape, child abuse etc etc.

However, to go on from saying it makes sense from an antropocentric view to saying that there is something metaphysical about humans which entitles them to such rights is an illegitimate leap of logic I feel.

I would rather say that we are naturally predisposed to make similar rules in societies because we have similar needs and interests.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Wed Oct 14, 2009 12:11 am UTC

setzer777 wrote: That sounds plausible, and rather troubling. It means that one who doesn't believe that taking away rights is "simply wrong", but wants to avoid the political consequences of that being widespread must either:

A. Try to make oneself believe that proposition ("taking away rights is 'simply wrong') despite that lack of compelling reasons (that is compelling reasons to think that the idea is reflective of objective reality)

B. Create a categorical divide between the general population (who mustn't believe that rights can be revoked) and the enlightened few (which would include oneself) who realize that rights are completely revocable.

(A) goes against the way any non-pragmatist want to form beliefs (i.e. anyone who doesn't want to base belief about reality on the political outcome of that belief); while (B) seems like the height of intellectual arrogance (thinking that you can handle the truth but the general population cannot).

I went with B for a while, though I didn't see it in those terms precisely. But the process of getting older has taught me that I'm a lot less enlightened than I once thought. One of the things that moved me to be more religious is the realization that most of what we believe about rights and morality comes about from mass acceptance. If someone wants to pop a particular bubble of belief about rights, then they really need to go inflate another to argue for a different set of rights. And if we want to do away with belief bubbles, I don't see an alternative besides a nihilist hole. That scares me.

So, now I use option A. But since I can't simply manufacture belief, it's about lowering my defenses for the beliefs I grew up with. It's certainly not a general solution for everybody.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby TranquilFury » Thu Oct 15, 2009 1:32 am UTC

Yes, but they are not the same for everyone: Your rights are those things you have the power and will to demand. Everything else is just privilege.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby King of Frogs » Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:38 pm UTC

TranquilFury wrote:Yes, but they are not the same for everyone: Your rights are those things you have the power and will to demand. Everything else is just privilege.

I'm not sure your response is entirely coherent. Rights are defined by societies, not individuals, I do not use my "power" or "will" to demand my right to life, I assume it because that is something my society holds to be the case.

The act of willing ones power to demand a something does not make it an objective natural right, or even a legitimate moral action.

You seem to be coming from a highly individualist position here, but whatever you call them, rights or privelage, you cannot deny that it is useful for a society to have these laws or social rules.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Dangermouse » Fri Oct 16, 2009 4:24 am UTC

Royall wrote:
TranquilFury wrote:Your rights are those things you have the power and will to demand.


I'm afraid I don't understand that definition. I thought "natural rights" also implies "rights for everyone".



You're correct. Natural rights are not qualified by status, nor are they qualified by power and will. You do not 'demand' them, they are inherent to your being as a human.

I think people are a little confused about what is meant by 'do natural rights exists', as if that statement must mean 'do natural rights exist a-priori'? I don't think it matters if natural rights are derived from God, or the state of nature, or 'human nature' for that matter. If we accept Aristotle's proposition that 'man is by nature a political animal' then we can assign 'natural rights' as a condition of human 'being' that doesn't need to be qualified by some higher rational force. So what if we created them? I'm not saying I know what these rights are, but that we can have a debate about whether the right to due process is a natural right, without undermining the idea of natural rights.

@Leibniz: I think Kant's definition of examining a maxim as a universal rule is quite eloquent, thank you (runs for cover)

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 16, 2009 4:35 am UTC

Dangermouse wrote:So what if we created them? I'm not saying I know what these rights are, but that we can have a debate about whether the right to due process is a natural right, without undermining the idea of natural rights.

If we created them, then aren't they whatever we choose? There's really no discovery involved, it's just a matter of definition. Instead of asking "Is X a natural right?", shouldn't we ask "Shall we grant X as a natural right?"?

(This is a bit of devil's advocate since I'm not actually arguing for my position.)
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby TranquilFury » Fri Oct 16, 2009 11:29 am UTC

King of Frogs wrote:
TranquilFury wrote:Yes, but they are not the same for everyone: Your rights are those things you have the power and will to demand. Everything else is just privilege.

I'm not sure your response is entirely coherent. Rights are defined by societies, not individuals, I do not use my "power" or "will" to demand my right to life, I assume it because that is something my society holds to be the case.

The act of willing ones power to demand a something does not make it an objective natural right, or even a legitimate moral action.

You seem to be coming from a highly individualist position here, but whatever you call them, rights or privelage, you cannot deny that it is useful for a society to have these laws or social rules.
It's not an individualist position, it's applicable to groups of any size. Most simply, might makes right. In practice most people delegate their power and sovereignty to their government and religious authorities, which can be seen as agents with power to guarantee entitlements or rights to their constituents. These authorities are powerless without the cooperation of the governed.

Power, and natural rights are tricky to define power can be and is often expressed in terms of money or public opinion, but it fundamentally boils down to the ability and willingness to use force.

As used above, natural rights, are all those things you are entitled to which cannot be taken away, inalienable privileges.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Dangermouse » Fri Oct 16, 2009 3:27 pm UTC

TranquilFury wrote:
King of Frogs wrote:
TranquilFury wrote:Yes, but they are not the same for everyone: Your rights are those things you have the power and will to demand. Everything else is just privilege.

I'm not sure your response is entirely coherent. Rights are defined by societies, not individuals, I do not use my "power" or "will" to demand my right to life, I assume it because that is something my society holds to be the case.

The act of willing ones power to demand a something does not make it an objective natural right, or even a legitimate moral action.

You seem to be coming from a highly individualist position here, but whatever you call them, rights or privelage, you cannot deny that it is useful for a society to have these laws or social rules.
It's not an individualist position, it's applicable to groups of any size. Most simply, might makes right. In practice most people delegate their power and sovereignty to their government and religious authorities, which can be seen as agents with power to guarantee entitlements or rights to their constituents. These authorities are powerless without the cooperation of the governed.

Power, and natural rights are tricky to define power can be and is often expressed in terms of money or public opinion, but it fundamentally boils down to the ability and willingness to use force.

As used above, natural rights, are all those things you are entitled to which cannot be taken away, inalienable privileges.



Actually most legal theory clearly defines force threats as falling outside of the boundaries of legal jurisprudence (rights theory fits in here). The example I'm thinking of is from H.L.A Hart's The Concept of Law--pointing a gun to someones head and telling them to do something does not constitute 'law', nor does it define 'rights'. Laws and rights are, at their core, rules to govern human conduct. Enforcement is certainly an important part of rights theory, but force is not the progenitor of rights.


@Guenther:

There is a process to discovering what natural rights are. Whether its a Kantian "aufklarung" or something postmodern is up for debate, but the process of finding natural rights is very important--you don't simply say "I have a right to X". I could go more into some of the different epistemological processes but its a complicated and touchy subject

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby King of Frogs » Fri Oct 16, 2009 3:32 pm UTC

Dangermouse wrote:@Guenther:

There is a process to discovering what natural rights are. Whether its a Kantian "aufklarung" or something postmodern is up for debate, but the process of finding natural rights is very important--you don't simply say "I have a right to X". I could go more into some of the different epistemological processes but its a complicated and touchy subject

But surely that idea of doing things is still comitted to a metaphysical idea of rights existing objectively and independant of human society? How can one defend such a position?
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 16, 2009 4:43 pm UTC

King of Frogs wrote:
Dangermouse wrote:@Guenther:

There is a process to discovering what natural rights are. Whether its a Kantian "aufklarung" or something postmodern is up for debate, but the process of finding natural rights is very important--you don't simply say "I have a right to X". I could go more into some of the different epistemological processes but its a complicated and touchy subject

But surely that idea of doing things is still comitted to a metaphysical idea of rights existing objectively and independant of human society? How can one defend such a position?

Yeah, this is my point. It's blending belief and disbelief. It's like Dawkins claiming God is a delusion and then describing how one might go about discovering who God is. If we want to pop the belief bubble and claim that God only exists in our mind, then God is about definition, not discovery.

If we want to pop the belief bubble of rights, then rights are about definition, not discovery.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Fri Oct 16, 2009 5:47 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
King of Frogs wrote:
Dangermouse wrote:@Guenther:

There is a process to discovering what natural rights are. Whether its a Kantian "aufklarung" or something postmodern is up for debate, but the process of finding natural rights is very important--you don't simply say "I have a right to X". I could go more into some of the different epistemological processes but its a complicated and touchy subject

But surely that idea of doing things is still comitted to a metaphysical idea of rights existing objectively and independant of human society? How can one defend such a position?

Yeah, this is my point. It's blending belief and disbelief. It's like Dawkins claiming God is a delusion and then describing how one might go about discovering who God is. If we want to pop the belief bubble and claim that God only exists in our mind, then God is about definition, not discovery.

If we want to pop the belief bubble of rights, then rights are about definition, not discovery.


Yeah, exactly. The "epistemological processes" that Dangermouse mentions are exactly what I'm questioning - the notion that we "discover" rights rather than "invent" or "assert" rights.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby ChoclatyGoodnes » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:28 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:
guenther wrote:
King of Frogs wrote:
Dangermouse wrote:@Guenther:

There is a process to discovering what natural rights are. Whether its a Kantian "aufklarung" or something postmodern is up for debate, but the process of finding natural rights is very important--you don't simply say "I have a right to X". I could go more into some of the different epistemological processes but its a complicated and touchy subject

But surely that idea of doing things is still comitted to a metaphysical idea of rights existing objectively and independant of human society? How can one defend such a position?

Yeah, this is my point. It's blending belief and disbelief. It's like Dawkins claiming God is a delusion and then describing how one might go about discovering who God is. If we want to pop the belief bubble and claim that God only exists in our mind, then God is about definition, not discovery.

If we want to pop the belief bubble of rights, then rights are about definition, not discovery.


Yeah, exactly. The "epistemological processes" that Dangermouse mentions are exactly what I'm questioning - the notion that we "discover" rights rather than "invent" or "assert" rights.


You argue that we "assert" rights, but perhaps rights are an evolutionary phenomenon. Societies (and not just human societies), have a majority that follows assumed "rights," which benefits the society as a whole*. These notions of rights create a stratification of individuals who believe in these rights to varying degrees, with those who shun the beliefs of the majority becoming outcasts. As a result, society is cohesive, filtering out the parts that don't work the same way as the general conglomeration**. I say that these ideas of rights are not just fabricated because they change slowly, even if individuals develop radical views that differ greatly from the generally accepted idea of rights that exists in a given societal context. This parallels natural selection because species evolve slowly, even if a single individual is especially well-equipped or especially ill-equipped to survive and procreate.

*some would argue that this is not true, citing examples such as genocide. However, the "society" I'm referring to is only the one making the choices. ie. British imperialism and the idea that they had the right to settle/ subjugate other societies benefited Britain. These policies were not the policies created by the indigenous societies that got the short end of the stick. Hopefully this will avoid confusion, and clarify that when I say "society as a whole," I mean the society making the policies that benefit itself, regardless of the effect on other societies.

**I could provide historical and biological examples, but it seems trivial, since the terminology used to refer to these individuals (ie. "heretics" in medieval European society, or "loyalists" in Revolutionary War era Colonies) changes so often.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:02 am UTC

The problem with the evolutionary interpretation is that it only provides us with a nice narrative for the origin of rights (and I do think it's a nice narrative). It doesn't have any predictive power, and it doesn't help us make real decisions on how to live our life. In fact, if people took to heart the notion that rights are about survival of the fittest, I think we'd see some pretty poor results.

By the way, that narrative does help me with my beliefs. But I think it's the same mechanism by which a narrative in a personal, loving God helps with belief. It's not due to some enlightenment of truth.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby ChoclatyGoodnes » Sun Oct 18, 2009 7:00 am UTC

guenther wrote:The problem with the evolutionary interpretation is that it only provides us with a nice narrative for the origin of rights (and I do think it's a nice narrative). It doesn't have any predictive power, and it doesn't help us make real decisions on how to live our life.

But it does have predictive power. Just like watching the evolution of species (as Darwin did with the birds on the Galapagos), one can observe the evolution of society's overall view of human rights and make a conjecture about where society's view will go next. For example, in the US, the trend has been towards a right to equality. As a greater number of individuals begins to agree with this ideology, it gains more force, and politicians, who are at least partially influenced by public opinion, must begin incorporating this ideology in their agenda. In this manner, the evolutionary interpretation of our perception of rights is as applicable and practical as any branch of philosophy or history.

In fact, if people took to heart the notion that rights are about survival of the fittest, I think we'd see some pretty poor results.


In society, we do, in fact already govern our notion of rights with the dictum of survival of the fittest. I think what you are referring to is Social Darwinism, which I agree could have disastrous effects if an entire society had that belief. However, that is not what I meant when I compared the evolution of traits within species to the evolution of ideologies within a society. Ideologies, if they benefit a society, will eventually become pervasive in that society, as more and more individuals see the merit of said ideology, much like how a trait will become pervasive in a species if it benefits that species, because the individuals that possess it will be more successful.

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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby setzer777 » Sun Oct 18, 2009 6:34 pm UTC

ChoclatyGoodnes:

That does sound like a plausible narrative, though I'm not sure it really contradicts to the claim that we invent or assert rights - human inventions and assertions could be equally subject to natural selection (i.e. the concept of memes). I'm not sure rights in your narrative could properly be called "natural rights", because the concept of natural rights implies universal, unchanging rights, whereas any rights governed by natural selection can radically change if the environment does.

In any case, I don't disagree with you - the main thing I mean to question is the idea that rights exist as something beyond a pattern (or meme) in human brains.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby guenther » Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:36 am UTC

ChoclatyGoodnes wrote:But it does have predictive power. Just like watching the evolution of species (as Darwin did with the birds on the Galapagos), one can observe the evolution of society's overall view of human rights and make a conjecture about where society's view will go next. For example, in the US, the trend has been towards a right to equality. As a greater number of individuals begins to agree with this ideology, it gains more force, and politicians, who are at least partially influenced by public opinion, must begin incorporating this ideology in their agenda. In this manner, the evolutionary interpretation of our perception of rights is as applicable and practical as any branch of philosophy or history.

First, imagine if the theory of evolution only had morphology going for it, not DNA. How useful would it be? It's like this with the evolution of ideas but worse since it's easier to measure wingspan than ideas.

Second, sure we can connect dots and extend trend lines, but what does that tell us? Only that we're trending, nothing more. Is the trend good or bad? Are we moving towards equilibrium or instability? Does the move towards equality mean we've moved further along the path of enlightenment like when we discarded human sacrifice and slavery? Or is it creating a culture of entitlement that will break the back of government such that it simply can't pay for all the rights? My guess is that the science of the evolution of ideas will come back inconclusive until after we have already witnessed what happens.

ChoclatyGoodnes wrote:In society, we do, in fact already govern our notion of rights with the dictum of survival of the fittest. I think what you are referring to is Social Darwinism, which I agree could have disastrous effects if an entire society had that belief. However, that is not what I meant when I compared the evolution of traits within species to the evolution of ideologies within a society. Ideologies, if they benefit a society, will eventually become pervasive in that society, as more and more individuals see the merit of said ideology, much like how a trait will become pervasive in a species if it benefits that species, because the individuals that possess it will be more successful.

I definitely agree with the notion of natural selection for ideas. But I don't think it's as simple as people seeing the merit and becoming convinced. We are fond of the notion that we are (or should be) rational creatures swayed by logic and reason. But I think emotions play a much bigger role, and beliefs in right and wrong, true and false are much more important than concepts such as useful and impractical.

Another point is that I think we're living in a time where we have enough wealth to compensate for the short-coming of certain ideas. Living in an age of plenty is simply easier, so the demand on our social cohesiveness is less. But if we ever get to a point where there simply aren't enough resources for everyone, then I think we will adopt very different ideologies about what rights are important.
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Re: Do natural rights exist?

Postby Vince_Right » Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:29 pm UTC

I got into the topic of natural rights on another forum and miss in this (old) discussion some essential questions.
People tend to miss that they mix up Rights, Justice, Moral, ethics, etc... in the same discussion, they do not disclose their arguments (premiss, dogmas, definition, logical statements, conclusion) and thus it ends up in a belief discussion.

If natural rights do not exist, then Hitler had the right to kill the Jews, it was the Nazi law. Stalin could kill the enemies of the state in the Great Terror. The south of the US can reinstate slavery. Does this seems reasonable/acceptable? So do you accept this if it would happen to you? On what grounds would you fight this?
What is a right? (most forums miss this) If a right is a social construct and the society changes the right (discussed above) is this what you call a right or a wish?
If the right is a written down law and you burn the paper, does the right disappear?
If you discuss rights in the US, Germany, Russia or China, why would you come to differences? Are these elements of rights or ... ? Discussion is based on logic, can you have a logical, reasonable monologue that leads to rights (where is the need for society then)?
What are the dogma's you accept:
- Already here discussed is liberty, ...
- Why would only Humans (sentient beings) have rights? Link this to your definition.
- What is the link between Rights, Justice, Moral, ethics, etc...


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