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Defining Individual Rights

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 I don't have rights because they are good (this reasoning would apply to animals); I have rights because they establish what is objectively required to exist in a social context, which happens to be a good thing.

What of the rights required to exist when the social context happens to be an Islamist terrorist state under Sharia law, or a cannibal tribe where consuming human flesh is considered to be a virtue? Surely there must be a finer standard than the social context of whatever the popular collective consensus happens to be?

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The "societal context" is not the standard by which rights are jugded, man's life is.  

 

A man, say alone on an island, needs to act in order to sustain his life, his primary means of survival is his reason. If and when men live together or form a society , rights are the principles that define the freedom of actions that each individual possess by his nature. Any violation of those principles can only come from the use of physical force, which would only be applicable in a society.

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The "societal context" is not the standard by which rights are jugded, man's life is.  

 

A man, say alone on an island, needs to act in order to sustain his life, his primary means of survival is his reason. If and when men live together or form a society , rights are the principles that define the freedom of actions that each individual possess by his nature. Any violation of those principles can only come from the use of physical force, which would only be applicable in a society.

On a desert island I can  see choices and preferences (constrained by the talents of the individual and physical laws).  Can you tell me where rights or any other ethical issue is operative?

 

ruveyn1

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On a desert island I can  see choices and preferences (constrained by the talents of the individual and physical laws).  Can you tell me where rights or any other ethical issue is operative?

 

ruveyn1

Rights are only applicable in a societal context. They are principles of action that apply to human interaction.

 

Morality would still be operative. Morality deals with man qua man, an individual isolated would still need to act to sustain his life and would need at least to identify that which furthers his life.

Edited by tadmjones

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Rights are only applicable in a societal context. They are principles of action that apply to human interaction.

 

Morality would still be operative. Morality deals with man qua man, an individual isolated would still need to act to sustain his life and would need at least to identify that which furthers his life.

I see that as a person choosing to live and survive.  There is no ethical imperative to do so.  We can choose to live or not choose to live. Neither choice is unethical.

 

ruveyn1

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I see that as a person choosing to live and survive.  There is no ethical imperative to do so.  We can choose to live or not choose to live. Neither choice is unethical.

 

ruveyn1

well if you choose to live ,you would need a set of principles to guide your actions even if it was only;every time I feel hunger I will eat. But even just that one lone principle would be a morality.

So the choice of life would require an ethical code.

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All directed at secondhander:

I do think you've argued many similar points to me. Just because I wrote one thing doesn't mean I think you disagreed. I'm just presenting a whole context, and I'm pretty sure you'll agree with most of what I wrote, but we disagree on the basis of rights.

A priori? I don't know where you're getting that from. Usually that means taking it as a given before ever using any evidence in reality, which isn't valid if we want to say there is an objective good. But yes, it is true that rights *follow from* the premise that life is objectively good and can be judged as such. The important idea though is that in a social context, the main thing required to be able to live your life is that you have freedom of choice. That's based on reason as a means for survival, which is part of what is objectively good, thereby making rights morally good, and respecting rights as a moral action.

If you *just* say life being good leads to rights, then animals would have rights. And you specifically said conscious, living beings for your formulation, which includes animals. So, does a dog have rights because any act that takes life away from a dog is objectively bad? I'm challenging how you arrived at your conclusion. I think you can express the thought better.
 

She does not say rights exist because they are a requirement to exist in social contexts (I don't believe).


She does:

"Individual rights is the only proper principle of human coexistence, because it rests on man’s nature, i.e., the nature and requirements of a conceptual consciousness. Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered)."

Now, it only says a proper principle, not that it's a reason rights exist per se. But I think this second quote, from VoS, adds additional perspective:

"“Rights” are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics."

I think it is safe to say rights come from requirements of coexistence amongst other people. There is one other issue I had with your overall formulation.
 

a right to life exists a priori because life is better than non-life, and the destruction or enslavement of life is therefore objectively bad, therefore you have a right to not be destroyed or enslaved because it's an objectively bad thing to do.



Okay, the grammar is awkward; you wrote "because", then two "therefores", then another "because", so it gets confusing. I'll explain how I interpreted this.

a) destruction of life is objectively bad because life better than non-life
b ) having your life destroyed is objectively a bad thing to do (this is weird, do you mean "a bad thing to have done to you"?)
Because a + b, you have a right to life.

How are you distinguishing from rights violations and non-rights violations that are immoral? I'm just not seeing it. If I get lied to and I honestly deserve to know, that is a destruction of life on some level. I don't think that you believe lying is a rights violation, so in your formulation, where is the difference? Something is missing! My main idea is that social context is missing.
 

I'm not sure what you disagree with about my argument, that you can't truly have life if you don't have the freedom to possess your own life (it's really tautologous if you think about it). That's the same as what Rand argues:


It say's "possess" but not "ownership". One can possess without ownership in the literal sense. A dog can possess a bone, but dogs don't have a right to own bones. In any case, it doesn't make any *sense* to me to say you own yourself, because you *are* yourself. I don't have a reason to think that Rand meant one has self-ownership.

Edited by Eiuol

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What of the rights required to exist when the social context happens to be an Islamist terrorist state under Sharia law, or a cannibal tribe where consuming human flesh is considered to be a virtue? Surely there must be a finer standard than the social context of whatever the popular collective consensus happens to be?

Well, Sharia law violates the needs of conceptual consciousness, such as freedom of choice. What I mean by social context is basically how one can coexist with and mutually benefit from others, if you want to do things like trade and make your own choices amongst others.

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     I think this is going a bit off topic. What I'm trying to do is define rights as an affirmative abstraction. However I'm starting to think that the notion of individual rights do only apply to a social context. Especially in those contextual situations where individual rights are being trampled in the name of social justice or majority rule. 

     Let me explain;

"Individual rights are those freedoms of action upon which mans life depends" and I think the conjugate of this as a social principle is "moral principles guiding and sanctioning man's actions in a social context"(to paraphrase Ayn Rand's Lexicon definition)

In this way Individual rights are defined as a logical affirmative, however the concept has to be applied as a moral restriction upon man's actions toward and concerning other individuals.

     I think this bit of consideration, the fact that rights are freedoms not values, is really alI that I was missing when considering the nature of individual rights.

 

Thanks for the useful commentary!

 

                                                                                                                                                                             Leo

 

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For Eiuol

 

A priori? I don't know where you're getting that from. Usually that means taking it as a given before ever using any evidence in reality, which isn't valid if we want to say there is an objective good.

 

That's not quite correct. A priori and a posteriori are two types of knowledge; they are both based in reality. It is true that a priori knowledge is held intuitively, without the need for empirical investigation in a strict sense, but it is no less involved in the real world. A priori has nothing to do with knowledge held "before" or "after" a sense experience in a temporal sense. A priori is deductive logic; a posteriori is inductive logic. But both use evidence found in reality. (A priori will use deductive, rational logic alone; a posteriori will use empirical data combined with inductive and deductive logic.)

 

A priori knowledge also tends to be tautological. For example, here's an a priori statement: All bachelors are unmarried. You know this to be true without having to do an empirical investigation, and the reason why is because the concept of "unmarried" is inherent in the meaning of bachelorhood. So you hold this knowledge a priori. You could also make a deductive argument along the same lines:

 

P1: All bachelors are unmarried.

P2. Tom is a bachelor.

Therefore: Tom is unmarried.

 

You can know that Tom is unmarried by pure deduction (provided the premises are true) without going out and experiencing the world; you arrive at that knowledge by pure deductive reason. And still, deductive reasoning is grounded in reality, namely the reality of the laws of logic.

 

Here's another a priori knowledge: 2 is greater than 1. Again, this is known intuitively without the need for induction or experience of the world, per se. It is also tautological, as most all (if not all) a priori knowledge is, for the definition of "2" is two 1's.

 

Also, the laws of logic are a priori knowledge. 

 

The law of identity, that A = A, is known a priori. Same with the law of non-contradiction, that A cannot equal not-A at the same time and in the same sense.

 

These laws of logic correspond to reality because they are based on the fact that reality exists.

 

So, a priori knowledge is very much valid in objectivist philosophy. In fact, this is why I said that the objectivist axiom, existence exists, and the objectivist value, life is better than non-life, are known to be true a priori. 

 

You quoted me as writing:

 

She does not say rights exist because they are a requirement to exist in social contexts (I don't believe).

 

I wasn't clear with my language. The point I was trying to make was that while rights are expressed only in a relationship to social contexts, they don't get their ontological grounding from social contexts.

 

In other words, if you are the sole human on the planet, there is no need for "rights," because rights tell you how to relate to other rational beings. You don't have to worry about a right to your own life, because no other being will try to take it from you. Now as soon as one other person exists with you, your right to your own life can be expressed. But the right to own your own life has as its ontological grounding the objective value that "existence is better than non-existence," and that as a necessary condition for you to continue to exist you must be able to own your own life, without losing your life or your ability to control your life to other people.

 

A person doesn't need to express that right until he is in a social context, but the grounding for that right was always there -- grounded in the objectivist value of "life is better than non-life."

 

It sounded to me as though you were arguing that rights exist because they are pragmatic for getting along with other people. I see now that perhaps I was misreading you, and that we are closer to each other than first appeared. But maybe not. Feel free to clarify and correct me.

 

Rand's argument was: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context."

 

Note the "in" a social context (rather than, "because" of a social context).  

 

I don't think that you believe lying is a rights violation

 

I do believe that lying is a rights violation.

 

I have a right not to be defrauded. Lying is knowingly giving false information to someone about the world. It is knowingly tricking a person into misunderstanding the real world and certain facts pertaining to situations that affect him. Lies can kill, because they distort reality, and we need proper knowledge of reality for survival. It is no different than fraud. If someone calls up a elderly woman and says that her grandson is in trouble and in jail, and he needs $5,000 dollars to post bail immediately, and the woman sends the money, only later to find out that she was talking to a con-artist and that her grandson is fine, then she has had her rights violated; not only because she has had her property stolen from her, but also because in order for the theft to occur she was fed false information about the world.  

 

Or to use an extreme example, suppose you are in a dungeon with only two doors, and one door leads to the exit, and another door triggers an explosion in the room that will kill you. There was a person who went before you, and he chose the right door and survived, and his voice comes over a speaker in the room. You ask him which door is the safe door, and he lies to you and tells you to open the deadly door.

 

Lies kill. And though this example is of course extreme and is an "emergency situation" kind of story, even real-life lies kill you, though to a lesser degree and not as definitively, because they feed you a distorted picture of the world, which hampers your ability to survive and achieve your value.

 

So again, your right to be harmed (in this case by being given false information about reality) is expressed in a social context. If you were the only person on the planet, you would have no use for a concept of a "right" not to be lied to, or a "right" not to be harmed, because there would be no one there to harm you or lie to you. When there is someone there to harm you or lie to you, then you can express you rights, but the rights get their foundation from the ever-present, immutable, objective ethic that the loss of life is evil.

Edited by secondhander

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Do know that a notion of a priori knowledge is impossible, and denied in any sense of Objectivist epistemology. Knowledge can *only* derive at some level from experience, with induction. Only induction provides knowledge. There is no such thing as intuitive knowledge. In other words, life being a priori good is explicitly rejecting Rand's justification of rights. A is A is not known a priori. It is known precisely because you see it to be so. 2 is greater than one *is* gained through experience, any smaller numbers like that can be basically seen directly. The point is, a priori / a posteriori is an invalid/useless distinction.

Ontological grounding! There is no such thing. Existence being better than anything must be *discovered* as does any piece of knowledge when figuring out what is sound *and* valid.

Rights exist not purely for pragmatic reasons, but they do exist for a purpose of enabling people to coexist, as does any concept. All concepts are purposeful and don't exist in vacuums. Rights exist because people coexist. And the rights are figured out by looking at the nature of man, i.e. conceptual consciousness.

"I do believe that lying is a rights violation."
So if someone lied that they took a trip to Mars, they violated your rights? All fraud is lying, but not all lying is fraud. Frankly, it's absurd to call lying a rights violation. That's why I ask about this example.

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The social context for individual rights is politics, which means the sanctioning or prohibition of interactions between members of a group. However there remains the individual context of self-preservation, which means the individual recognition and selection of actions necessary to survive. A hermit doesn't gain a right to life by entering society, or lose it by departing. His right to live is regulated by social interaction, but not created by interacting socially, or alienated by living alone. I use the example of a hermit because he is self-governing, which means he responds to his environment by choosing (sanctioning or prohibiting) his own actions. A hermit isn't free to do whatever he wants in isolation and remain alive. He must still choose to remain alive and act accordingly, and those actions demonstrate his right to live (or not to) according to his autonomy as an individual. It would be as correct to say that the hermit sanctions the social regulation of his right to life by choosing to interact with others, which means his right has a social context but isn't delimited to a social context.

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Devil's Advocate, on 27 Feb 2013 - 13:14, said:

The social context for individual rights is politics, which means the sanctioning or prohibition of interactions between members of a group. However there remains the individual context of self-preservation, which means the individual recognition and selection of actions necessary to survive. A hermit doesn't gain a right to life by entering society, or lose it by departing. His right to live is regulated by social interaction, but not created by interacting socially, or alienated by living alone. I use the example of a hermit because he is self-governing, which means he responds to his environment by choosing (sanctioning or prohibiting) his own actions. A hermit isn't free to do whatever he wants in isolation and remain alive. He must still choose to remain alive and act accordingly, and those actions demonstrate his right to live (or not to) according to his autonomy as an individual. It would be as correct to say that the hermit sanctions the social regulation of his right to life by choosing to interact with others, which means his right has a social context but isn't delimited to a social context.

Politics is a branch of philosophy that deals with human interactions. It is dependent and derived from metaphysics and ethics. The principles of individual rights are only applicable in a 'societal context'.

If one lives in isolation there is no need of rights. What would a principle that sanctions man's action mean, if there was no entity to challenge or thwart one's actions?

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Eiuol

 

I don't have much time tonight to do more response than this, but I wanted to address this statement. 

 

So if someone lied that they took a trip to Mars, they violated your rights? All fraud is lying, but not all lying is fraud. Frankly, it's absurd to call lying a rights violation.

 

This is like asking that if someone was plotting to murder you, and on the way over to your house he was hit by a car and killed, did he violate your rights? Well no, because he wasn't able to act. So the thoughts in his head never translated to action, and therefore your life was never negatively impacted by him. Or that perhaps your brother found out that this person was going to murder you, and he killed him before he could get to you. Were your rights violated? Again, he wasn't able to act against you, so technically no.

 

In the same way, if someone lied and told me that they took a trip to Mars, and I immediately saw the ridiculous story as the lie that it was, and discarded it, then were my rights violated? Well no. The lie never acted upon me, or the way it's normally put: I never acted upon the lie and false information. What if I was told a slightly more believable lie, but I was suspicious and investigated for myself, were my rights violated? Aside from the fact that I had to waste my time investigating the claim, I still never acted on the false information, so I'd say my rights were never violated. However, if I'm told a lie and I act upon the false information about reality and the world, then it will necessarily have some kind of negative consequences for me.

 

This is what I was talking about when I am talking about a lie -- the lie actually acting upon me, in the same way that if we were discussing whether murder was a violation of rights the assumption would be that the murder did take place and I was harmed.

 

Just as a failed attempt to harm someone isn't a violation of rights (because it failed), so too is a failed attempt to lie (it still happens to be a lie, just an unsuccessful one, whereas a failed murder isn't called a murder. Perhaps that language is what is the disconnect here). But if a lie is successful and I act upon that false representation of the world, then I will necessarily be harmed (sometimes to a very small degree, sometimes, as in financial fraud, to a large degree). And that indeed is a violation of my right not to be harmed.  

Edited by secondhander

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Eiuol

 

But if a lie is successful and I act upon that false representation of the world, then I will necessarily be harmed (sometimes to a very small degree, sometimes, as in financial fraud, to a large degree). And that indeed is a violation of my right not to be harmed.  

 

The particular lie in question (the trip to Mars thingy) doesn't seem to be the kind of lie that could possibly be acted upon.  What would you be able to do if the story was true that you couldn't if it isn't?

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The particular lie in question (the trip to Mars thingy) doesn't seem to be the kind of lie that could possibly be acted upon.  What would you be able to do if the story was true that you couldn't if it isn't?

 

Spend money on a ticket to Mars, obviously. :P

 

Perhaps I am wrong in part, and i am open to insights. But at this point i do think that if you are knowingly given a false view of reality and you act on it, then your right not to be harmed has been violated. 

 

Like I said, some lies may be so preposterous that you see them for what they are, and you don't act on them at all. Other lies that you do act on may not really harm you very much, even if they do harm you. And perhaps there should be no punishment given for a lie that doesn't harm you much, versus a definite punishment for a lie that harms you a lot, such as financial fraud.

 

It's sort of like this: Let's say someone stole a pen from your desk at work, a pen that was your personal property that you spent your own money on. And let's say you didn't even notice it was gone for a month. Did they violate your rights? Yes of course. They stole your property. but were you harmed a lot? No, only a very little. Still, your rights were violated.

 

So, if someone tells you a lie that you act on, and it harms you, even if only in a very minor way, it still seems to me that your right to not be harmed was violated.

Edited by secondhander

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Rights are moral absolutes that identify freedom of action as a necessary component to man’s pursuit of life and happiness. 

 

Rights protect man’s humane pursuit of achievement from physical subversion.  By protecting man’s humane action, peace flourishes, and violence is driven out of society. 

 

As moral absolutes, rights are based on the will to live, and demanded by life itself.  Because values have a shelf-life, a man must reinvest in his values as they depreciate; he must save and improve for the future. Property rights are moral absolutes because man suffers and dies when thugs clean out his refrigerator and resources.  Do not mistake the snapshot for the movie. The principle of property rights must be cherished as a moral absolute because the snapshot of being robbed $1 today fosters your want and deprivation tomorrow. 

 

The value of reason and rights presupposes a will to live; a suicidal bomber, or a socialist satisfied with deprivation and out to starve his fellow man, has no use for rights. The more mystical, collectivistic, altruistic the motive, the more present life should be sacrificed.

 

To develop a free society we need to glorify the will to live as man's natural moral compass and first moral absolute. The value of rights then shines brightly.

 

http://lawlimits.org

Edited by writer1972

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"Politics is a branch of philosophy that deals with human interactions. It is dependent and derived from metaphysics and ethics. The principles of individual rights are only applicable in a 'societal context'. If one lives in isolation there is no need of rights. What would a principle that sanctions man's action mean, if there was no entity to challenge or thwart one's actions?" ~ tadmjones, post #38

 

The entity to challenge or thwart ones actions is oneself. A hermit has as much need for a right to life as a citizen because both must govern their own actions, and neither can do whatever they want to survive. The freedom to act isn't simply a freedom from the coercion of others, but the freedom to do what is correct and proper given ones situation.

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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secondhander:

Then it's better to say *some* lies are violations of rights. A lie happens as long as it is said, and not if it the other person acts upon the lie. The Mars example isn't an attempted lie, it is a lie. You are right, though, that the lie would not be a rights violation because you never acted on it, nor could you if you wanted. In which case you agree with me - not all lies are rights violations. Attempted lying doesn't make sense like attempted murder does because someone has to be killed for murder to happen. But there is nothing about lying for it to happen except just saying it. I don't say lies are failed attempts at lying though because the lie still happened (that's a clear contradiction), while attempted murders are failed attempts at murder because the murder didn't happen. Grammar does matter here, because it is part of the clarity of your argument. Okay then, but let's talk about when the lie is believed and is acted upon.

Say someone lied to you that you're fat, but since you have poor body image, you go out to loose weight. I'm not saying harassment, but they lied one time, and probably most people would realize it's a lie if they're not really fat. But some people do believe, like you in the hypothetical. Now, you didn't have to act on that lie, yet you took that lie and made a plan of action around it. Is that lie a rights violation? Keep in mind, no one is coerced into believing the lie - there was always the option to not act and the liar wasn't say, your nutritionist who is obligated to be truthful about your weight. The liar is some random person on the street. Indeed, the lie is bad regardless of if you act, but not all cases of immorality are rights violations. Give some examples of a rights violation that is a lie; I'm interested in "very small degree" examples.

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"Politics is a branch of philosophy that deals with human interactions. It is dependent and derived from metaphysics and ethics. The principles of individual rights are only applicable in a 'societal context'. If one lives in isolation there is no need of rights. What would a principle that sanctions man's action mean, if there was no entity to challenge or thwart one's actions?" ~ tadmjones, post #38

 

The entity to challenge or thwart ones actions is oneself. A hermit has as much need for a right to life as a citizen because both must govern their own actions, and neither can do whatever they want to survive. The freedom to act isn't simply a freedom from the coercion of others, but the freedom to do what is correct and proper given ones situation.

In the case of a hermit or a man in isolation, freedom from whom or what? Do you mean freewill or a volitional consciousness that is free to function? I don't understand your point.

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In the case of a hermit or a man in isolation, freedom from whom or what? Do you mean freewill or a volitional consciousness that is free to function? I don't understand your point.

My point is that a social context regulates, but doesn't create a right to life.  The source of all rights is a right to life, but what is the source of a right to life?  Society??  No, the source of a right to life is the living individual, which includes hermits.

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Spend money on a ticket to Mars, obviously. :P

 

....

 

So, if someone tells you a lie that you act on, and it harms you, even if only in a very minor way, it still seems to me that your right to not be harmed was violated.

 

The lie isn't that there are tickets to Mars, only that a trip to Mars was taken. 

 

..

 

You may need to clarify what you mean by "right to not be harmed".  What if the truth results in some kind of harm to you? 

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My point is that a social context regulates, but doesn't create a right to life.  The source of all rights is a right to life, but what is the source of a right to life?  Society??  No, the source of a right to life is the living individual, which includes hermits.

 Ok, so the hermit can hope that , upon meeting a meanderer in the woods, his rights will be recognized.

Later by his campfire he can once again revel in his imbued trait of rights in perfect solitude.

And society does not refer to an existential existent, so why would I argue that it can 'do' anything ?

Edited by tadmjones

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So, if someone tells you a lie that you act on, and it harms you, even if only in a very minor way, it still seems to me that your right to not be harmed was violated.

Your comment opens to another question:

 

Just as it is our own personal responsibility to know not to lie to others...

 

... is it also our responsibility to know when we are being lied to?

 

For a lie to do harm, it must first be met with a matching willingness to believe it. Lies can possess an irrational "too good to be true" quality to them, so that they can appeal to a complimentary irrational quality of "getting something for nothing". This is like a key and a lock. They must fit together to open the lock.

 

When a person realizes after the fact that they were lied to, it can be a valuable experience to discover the irrationality in them that wanted to believe the lie. This learning experience can make a person less susceptable to being lied to the next time... and there will always be a next time.

 

The less a person lies to others... the less they will believe lies of others.

Edited by moralist

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Your comment opens to another question:

 

Just as it is our own personal responsibility to know not to lie to others...

 

... is it also our responsibility to know when we are being lied to?

 

For a lie to do harm, it must first be met with a matching willingness to believe it. Lies can possess an irrational "too good to be true" quality to them, so that they can appeal to a complimentary irrational quality of "getting something for nothing". This is like a key and a lock. They must fit together to open the lock.

 

When a person realizes after the fact that they were lied to, it can be a valuable experience to discover the irrationality in them that wanted to believe the lie. This learning experience can make a person less susceptable to being lied to the next time... and there will always be a next time.

 

The less a person lies to others... the less they will believe lies of others.

Is it just me or is this line of reasoning leading the way for original sin in epistemology? Edited by tadmjones

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