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Defining Individual Rights

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Recently I've been attempting to define the concept of rights in a way more satisfying than:

"A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context."(Ayn Rand Lexiconhttp://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/individual_rights.html)

 

This is what i came up with:

"Those values which, if destroyed would render mans life non-existent, unlivable, or in a style contrary to mans life qua man"

 

Critiques and thoughts?

 

P.S.

Here are some places to start:

  >I think I'm missing some areas of thought about the proper way(s)/time(s) to defend such values.

  >I'm lacking the exact aforementioned values, i know they need to be few and specific, but beyond freedom, life, and self i draw a blank

  >I'm not sure exactly sure how to exclude "printing press rights"(Ayn Rand) from this definition, or if is even possible to do so

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This is another ethical principle which has a metaphysical and epistemic foundation. Its metaphysical basis is a Law of identity and causality. Man is what he is, a rational being. This is his defining identity. He cannot survive like a bird or polar bear. In order to live he has to use his mind. Epistemologically, in order to use his mind man needs freedom of choice. Mind doesn't work under coercion. Ethically, life is standard of value. Whatever is detrimental for life is bad. Since freedom of action is a necessary requirement for man's survival, freedom and individual rights are good. Eventually man cannot escape a need for freedom of choice and action. Even in the most oppressive totalitarian slave society there are people who make choice and give orders to others. The only problem is that their choices are not rational and such a society is doomed.

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Recently I've been attempting to define the concept of rights in a way more satisfying than:

"A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context."(Ayn Rand Lexiconhttp://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/individual_rights.html)

 

This is what i came up with:

"Those values which, if destroyed would render mans life non-existent, unlivable, or in a style contrary to mans life qua man"

 

Critiques and thoughts?

 

P.S.

Here are some places to start:

  >I think I'm missing some areas of thought about the proper way(s)/time(s) to defend such values.

  >I'm lacking the exact aforementioned values, i know they need to be few and specific, but beyond freedom, life, and self i draw a blank

  >I'm not sure exactly sure how to exclude "printing press rights"(Ayn Rand) from this definition, or if is even possible to do so

There are various rights, can they be subsumed under one unified concept?

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Here is what I got from a dictionary.  Lots of different meanings.  Please take a look.

 

 

right   [rahyt]  Show IPA adjective, right·er, right·est, noun, adverb,verb
adjective
1.
in accordance with what is good, proper, or just: right conduct.
2.
in conformity with fact, reasontruth, or some standard or principle; correct: the right solution; theright answer.
3.
correct in judgment, opinion, or action.
4.
fitting or appropriate; suitable: to say the right thing at the right time.
5.
most convenient, desirable, or favorable: Omaha is the right location for a meatpacking firm.
noun
18.
a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral: You have a right to say what you please.
19.
Sometimes, rightsthat which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles,etc.: women's rights; Freedom of speech is a right of all Americans.
20.
adherence or obedience to moral and legal principles and authority.
21.
that which is morally, legally, or ethically proper: to know right from wrong.
22.
a moral, ethical, or legal principle considered as an underlying cause of truth, justicemorality, orethics.
adverb
38.
in a straight or direct line; straight; directly: right to the bottom; to come right home.
39.
quite or completely; all the way: My hat was knocked right off.
40.
immediately; promptly: right after dinner.
41.
exactly; precisely: right here.
42.
correctly or accurately: to guess right.
verb (used with object)
49.
to put in or restore to an upright position: to right a fallen lamp.
50.
to put in proper order, condition, or relationship: to right a crookedly hung picture.
51.
to bring into conformity with fact; correct: to right one's point of view.
52.
to do justice to; avenge: to be righted in court.
53.
to redress, as a wrong.
verb (used without object)
54.
to resume an upright or the proper position: After the storm the saplings righted.
Idioms
55.
by rights, in fairness; justly: You should by rights have been asked your opinion on the matter.
56.
in one's own right, by reason of one's own ability, ownership, etc.; in or of oneself, asindependent of others: He is a rich man in his own right.
57.
in the right, having the support of reason or law; correct: It pays to be stubborn when one is in theright.
58.
right and left, on every side; in all directions: throwing his clothes right and left; members resigningright and left.
59.
right away off, without hesitation; immediately: She made a good impression right off.

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What about Rands definition is not satisfying? Im just curious as to why you would need a better definition.

I merely point out there are other definitions and the word "rights" has multiple meanings.  

 

ruveyn1

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Do you think that rights are created or discovered?

 

This got me to wondering when I heard someone on the radio mention that being armed was already assumed have been a prexisting right, and that the Second Amendment was only created to limit the government.

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An individual right in a social context presumes that hermits are right-less; that ones right to life isn't self-evident.  It makes for a curious sort of individual right, as the only individuals who apparently have them are everyone but oneself.   A hermit has the right to self preservation, not because of society, but because he acts accordingly.  Social rights are the regulation of self-evident individual rights, and individual rights are defined by the actions of individuals.


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." ~ Preamble, Declaration of Independence

The Preamble identifies 3 rights among an otherwise undefined set of individual rights.  Who defines them?  The individual to whom they are self-evident.

 

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people." ~ 10th Amendment, United States Constitution

The 10th Amendment refers to powers of the people that are independent of the State; these are your individual rights.

 

Individual rights are self-evident and correct and proper to the preservation of ones life.  That which sanctions an individual's freedom of action in a social context is regulation, and varies from State to State, or from one social context to another.

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An individual right in a social context presumes that hermits are right-less; that ones right to life isn't self-evident.  It makes for a curious sort of individual right, as the only individuals who apparently have them are everyone but oneself.   A hermit has the right to self preservation, not because of society, but because he acts accordingly.  Social rights are the regulation of self-evident individual rights, and individual rights are defined by the actions of individuals.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." ~ Preamble, Declaration of Independence

The Preamble identifies 3 rights among an otherwise undefined set of individual rights.  Who defines them?  The individual to whom they are self-evident.

 

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people." ~ 10th Amendment, United States Constitution

The 10th Amendment refers to powers of the people that are independent of the State; these are your individual rights.

 

Individual rights are self-evident and correct and proper to the preservation of ones life.  That which sanctions an individual's freedom of action in a social context is regulation, and varies from State to State, or from one social context to another.

The strong doctrine of individual rights asserts that there must be certain freedoms of action in order for anyone to exist as a human. Among these,  as Jefferson pointed out, are Life,  Liberty and Property. (P.S.  His original assertion was the RIght of Property but he was persuaded to rewrite that as The Pursuit of Happiness).

 

The notion of rights, in the sense intended above,  implies there is a biological or existential requirement for those rights.  They are not just cooked up out of thin air.

 

ruveyn1

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The strong doctrine of individual rights asserts that there must be certain freedoms of action in order for anyone to exist as a human. Among these,  as Jefferson pointed out, are Life,  Liberty and Property. (P.S.  His original assertion was the RIght of Property but he was persuaded to rewrite that as The Pursuit of Happiness).

 

The notion of rights, in the sense intended above,  implies there is a biological or existential requirement for those rights.  They are not just cooked up out of thin air.

 

ruveyn1

There's an interesting difference between a right to property, i.e. objects independent from ones own physical body and therefore subject to dispute by others, and a right to pursue happiness which implies the well being of ones own body.  Locke and Jefferson were primarily interested in justifying the acquisition of property necessary to the preservation of ones life, i.e. food and shelter.  Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (well being) is a more accurate description of autonomous individual actions (rights) of preservation, as opposed to those actions one must cooperate with others to perform, e.g., acquiring real estate in a manner that others will recognize and respect.

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There's an interesting difference between a right to property, i.e. objects independent from ones own physical body and therefore subject to dispute by others, and a right to pursue happiness which implies the well being of ones own body.  Locke and Jefferson were primarily interested in justifying the acquisition of property necessary to the preservation of ones life, i.e. food and shelter.  Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (well being) is a more accurate description of autonomous individual actions (rights) of preservation, as opposed to those actions one must cooperate with others to perform, e.g., acquiring real estate in a manner that others will recognize and respect.

That's obviously not true. 

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What about Rands definition is not satisfying? Im just curious as to why you would need a better definition.

Its not so much that Rand's definition is unsatisfying, I just wanted to understand the concept of rights in a context different from a social one.

To be more specific i wanted a definition of individual rights which was a positive, rather than a negative. But which did so without specifically enumerating them. However, if rights only apply to the interactions between free individuals then this discussion is superfluous.

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Its not so much that Rand's definition is unsatisfying, I just wanted to understand the concept of rights in a context different from a social one.

To be more specific i wanted a definition of individual rights which was a positive, rather than a negative. But which did so without specifically enumerating them. However, if rights only apply to the interactions between free individuals then this discussion is superfluous.

If I understand you... you're looking for a description of the affirmative principle upon which all individual rights rest. That's a worthy endeavor.

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Its not so much that Rand's definition is unsatisfying, I just wanted to understand the concept of rights in a context different from a social one.

To be more specific i wanted a definition of individual rights which was a positive, rather than a negative. But which did so without specifically enumerating them. However, if rights only apply to the interactions between free individuals then this discussion is superfluous.

Rights are moral principles, they are the bridge between ethics and politics. The facts upon which they rest are that humans MUST take action in order to survive and thrive. Those actions, required by man's life, are his to take by right. No one can rightfully prevent him from taking those actions.

Rights are inalienable, meaning that no one can take them away. So even the people in Iran and North Korea have rights, its just that their illegitimate government is violating them.

Have you read the Lexicon page on "Individual Rights"? Here it is.

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Rights are moral principles,

Yes... and so are responsibilities. For no one who fails to live a life deserving of rights will ever enjoy them.

 

 

For example:

 

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

 

There is a responsibility to moral actions inherent to the right to property. 

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Yes... and so are responsibilities. For no one who fails to live a life deserving of rights will ever enjoy them.

 

 

For example:

 

 

 

There is a responsibility to moral actions inherent to the right to property.

This, like pretty much everything you post, is unrelated to the philosophy of Objectivism. You need to at least mention that you're a Christian fundamentalist, not an Objectivist, before answering questions people rightfully assume will be answered from an Objectivist perspective.

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This, like pretty much everything you post, is unrelated to the philosophy of Objectivism.

What an odd response... when the quote in my post was Ayn Rand's words.

 

You need to at least mention that you're a Christian fundamentalist, not an Objectivist, before answering questions people rightfully assume will be answered from an Objectivist perspective.

You are correct to add that context, Nicky, and I'm glad you posted the reminder so that no one becomes confused. I am not an Objectivist. I only literally applied the writings of Ayn Rand to secure my own financial independence as a Capitalist. Being more of a doer than a thinker, the ideas of Ayn Rand are not an intellectual exercise for me. They are a specific literal plan of action.

 

 As long as intentions remain unrealized by actions, they are irrelevant.

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The answer seems simple to me, and is exactly what Rand argued. There is an objective right to life. It is objectively true that life is better than non-life when it comes to a conscious, living being. Therefore anything that destroys life, in total or in part, is objectively bad. Therefore, your right to life exists because any act that takes life from you is objectively bad. And you have a right to live your life freely the way you see fit because any act to enslave you or control you by the use of force is taking away your life, because integral to the definition of a person's life is the ability for that person to possess his own life, and enslavement takes away your ability to possess your own life.

 

All rights flow from that one primary, objective moral value judgment that life is better than non-life (or said another way, existence is better than non-existence for a rational, thinking being). 

Edited by secondhander

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The answer seems simple to me, and is exactly what Rand argued. There is an objective right to life. It is objectively true that life is better than non-life when it comes to a conscious, living being.

This is problematic because you are saying that any immoral act done against you is a violation of rights. What you say is mostly true for ethics being objective (except the "possess your life" part). Enslavement of a person is both immoral and a violation of rights, and denies freedom of choice. The point is that rights are what is required to be able to coexist in a social context. There are requirements to that, but it's not necessarily whatever is bad for life. Typically, except for very few circumstances, lying is bad for anyone's life, but it is not a violation of rights because it does not deny the ability of a person to evaluate a situation and make their own choice. All that rights declare is that there are definite requirements to what one needs to be able to engage in life amongst others. When enslaved, you cannot make your choices and are forced to make others.

 

All you really said is that because you can identify what is objectively bad, therefore you can identify an objective ethics. 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.

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This is problematic because you are saying that any immoral act done against you is a violation of rights. 

 

No, I'm saying the opposite. I'm saying that any violation of your right to life is an immoral act. That's the basis upon which you determine whether something is immoral or not. If I were to say what you claim I say, that an "immoral act done against you is a violation of rights," then I would need first to explain how I determined what the basis for morality is. That's why you must first recognize the objectively true value statement that life is better than non-life, and then having that moral foundation in place you can then recognize what rights are.

 

Lying is bad because it is knowingly supplying untrue information that could negatively affect a person's life and decisions regarding the pursuit of a good life. And it is a contradiction to the objective law of logic of non-contradiction. To contradict reality is objectively wrong; to knowingly contradict reality is objectively immoral (unless there was an overriding moral cause to do so).

 

You have "rights" objectively. Those rights exist regardless of your knowledge or acknowledgment of them. They exist even if someone violates them. In fact, that's why it can be said that rights can be violated, because they exist objectively even if someone wants to prevent you from utilizing those rights.

Edited by secondhander

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"your right to life exists because any act that takes life from you is objectively bad."
 

This is what you wrote, which would mean that a right to life exists because there are objective bad actions that can be done to you. I don't think you intended to say *just* that, so it is more accurate to add that rights reflect a certain type of objectively bad action, which is an initiation of force. it's not any old bad action, such as lying. To be specific, it isn't true that lying is bad in all circumstances, but the point is even in when it is bad, it doesn't lead you to conclude there are rights. I could just say "your right to life exists because lying is objectively bad". You did say any act that takes away life is objectively bad, and in this context of life as a whole, someone lying to you does take away life to the extent of the deception. I don't mean fraud, but even when someone lies to you if they like you but actually don't that adversely affects your life. So, I offered further distinction from just the broader category of immoral action with the idea of the requirements to lead one's life in a social context.

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I'm a little bit confused, Eiuol, with your responses to me. In your last two responses you seem to be repeating the arguments I've made and affirming them as true and as thoughts you share, but then saying I've gotten things wrong somehow. It seems like you are misunderstanding my points, or taking sentences out of context of the surrounding argument, or perhaps I am not yet grasping the points you are arguing of where I've gotten things wrong.

 

What I'm arguing about the nature of objective values and rights is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same thing Rand argues in "Man's Rights."

 

Let me take your responses a line at a time and try to clarify my argument and make sense of yours.

 

"This is problematic because you are saying that any immoral act done against you is a violation of rights."

 

I addressed this in a response above, but in recap and clarification. I argue that the basis for moral value is the properly basic and a priori belief that life is better than non-life for a living being. From that objective truth, moral value is revealed, as are rights and the nature of rights. So it is not that rights exist first, logically, and define morality. It is that the objective truth that life is better than non-life is established first, logically, and from that moral value and rights follow.

 

"What you say is mostly true for ethics being objective (except the "possess your life" part)"

 

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:

 

There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. ... Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. -- "Man's Rights"

 

You said: 

 

Enslavement of a person is both immoral and a violation of rights, and denies freedom of choice.

 

Yes, exactly. And that's what I argued, and yet you seem to think I argued something different.

 

The point is that rights are what is required to be able to coexist in a social context.

 

I may misunderstand you here, but Rand's point was not that rights are a requirement for the existence of social contexts, what she said was that rights define a man's freedom to act in relation to other people "social contexts." 


 

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. -- "Man's Rights"

 

 

 

 You said:

 

When enslaved, you cannot make your choices and are forced to make others.

 

I argued the same thing. Another example of where we agree, but you seem to think we don't.

 

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

 

Ok, I think this is the crux of where we really are not connecting and differ. Again, I think you've misread what Rand said about social contexts in that quote from Man's Rights. She does not say rights exist because they are a requirement to exist in social contexts (I don't believe). She says man's rights exist because they come from a right to exist. Her words: "The right to life is the source of all rights." Now, where does the right to life come from? They come from the objective truth that life is better than non-life, as I said. And this is exactly what Rand said, as well:

 

"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

 

 

You quote me as saying: "... your right to life exists because any act that takes life from you is objectively bad."

 

And yes, that's true (I encourage you to reread the full context of what I said.) What I am saying here is that because we can establish that objective morals come from the objective truth that life is better than non-life, therefore it is objectively immoral to take away life from a life, or to take it away in part by enslaving a life. Therefore, the individual right to be free from death or enslavement is a right that naturally follows from that objective value. Rand says the same thing:

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

 

But after you quote me, you say:

 

This is what you wrote, which would mean that a right to life exists because there are objective bad actions that can be done to you.

 

No, that's not quite getting it, and not quite what I said. Again, I did not say a right to life exists because bad actions can be done to you. How would you know that those actions done to you are bad in the first place? No, 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. So it's not that bad actions done to you create rights ... it's that you can know the actions done to you are objectively bad or good by the same reason that you can know what your right is -- that life is better than non-life as an objective truth, and that the destruction of life in total or in part is objectively bad.

 

A lot of the other things you said I agree with you, and you seem to be merely restating the positions I already affirmed. I ran out of time for this response, but I hope this clears up my position.

Edited by secondhander

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