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I was arguing with someone about the nature of rights, and I said that rights come from reason and can be proved. The response was that certain foundations for proving rights are arbitrary. For example, someone can arbitrarily produce a reason why we have a right to ice cream.

Furthermore, they said that we can only prove we need two things to survive: food and water. Every other right, such as freedom of speech or religion, is arbitrary and that we as a collective only have them because we agreed that life wouldn't be enjoyable if all we did was collect the basic necessities for survival. They said the constitution was put in place, not to recognize rights as natural, but because most people agreed on the idea that rights would make life better for humans.  

They also attacked private property rights by stating that if someone, for example, owns the rights to a river, then he can deny water to an individual, and therefore deny him his right to life, as water is needed to survive, thus there should not be property rights for bodies of water. How can one attack these arguments?

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17 hours ago, setrotoxin said:

I was arguing with someone about the nature of rights, and I said that rights come from reason and can be proved. The response was that certain foundations for proving rights are arbitrary. For example, someone can arbitrarily produce a reason why we have a right to ice cream.

Furthermore, they said that we can only prove we need two things to survive: food and water. Every other right, such as freedom of speech or religion, is arbitrary and that we as a collective only have them because we agreed that life wouldn't be enjoyable if all we did was collect the basic necessities for survival. They said the constitution was put in place, not to recognize rights as natural, but because most people agreed on the idea that rights would make life better for humans.  

They also attacked private property rights by stating that if someone, for example, owns the rights to a river, then he can deny water to an individual, and therefore deny him his right to life, as water is needed to survive, thus there should not be property rights for bodies of water. How can one attack these arguments?

This is a pretty good place to start:

https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-fall/ayn-rand-theory-rights/

 

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18 hours ago, setrotoxin said:

I was arguing with someone about the nature of rights, and I said that rights come from reason and can be proved. The response was that certain foundations for proving rights are arbitrary. For example, someone can arbitrarily produce a reason why we have a right to ice cream.

Furthermore, they said that we can only prove we need two things to survive: food and water. Every other right, such as freedom of speech or religion, is arbitrary and that we as a collective only have them because we agreed that life wouldn't be enjoyable if all we did was collect the basic necessities for survival. They said the constitution was put in place, not to recognize rights as natural, but because most people agreed on the idea that rights would make life better for humans.  

They also attacked private property rights by stating that if someone, for example, owns the rights to a river, then he can deny water to an individual, and therefore deny him his right to life, as water is needed to survive, thus there should not be property rights for bodies of water. How can one attack these arguments?

1. Reason is a method, not an argument. If I said "how do you prove the law of gravity?" And I said "reason," I'm talking about a methodology, not a specific argument. In natural rights theory, saying they "are justified by reason" just points to the methodology employed. We reason from man's life as the standard of value to what are the requirements for survival and flourishing in a political society. 

2. The end is not mere survival, it is a rich conception of a flourishing life. Food, water, shelter, of course but also learning, development of skills, career pursuit, self acceptance  and personal growth, social relationships, love, sense of purpose in life, etc. None of this can be provided at the point of a gun, it has to be achieved, and again according to the natural rights folks, that requires a sphere of independence in which we are free to act and pursue our ends.

Secondly, because someone has a right to or needs some ends it doesn't follow they have a right to be provided said end. That's just a non sequitur. Thirdly, if someone is forcibly provided some end, someone else is therefore forced to labor for someone else's ends, and that introduces a contradiction. Welfare rights are accordingly incompatible with individual rights. In short: you don't own anyone.

3. There are some serious logical leaps being taken here. I need food, corn is food, therefore I have a right to force you to labor in a cornfield for me? Doesn't follow. I have a right to this specific river, let's say, because I labored on it, I built a fishery or a mill. I don't own "water" in the abstract, I own this specific water. You don't have rights to abstract classes, just specific things you either homesteaded or traded for.

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Also: Here's some resources for you, Tara Smith, professor of philosophy, University of Texas at Austin:

Moral Rights and Political Freedom

https://books.google.com/books?id=AQlvAAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Seeking a way out of today's bewildering rush of rights claims, Tara Smith's Moral Rights and Political Freedom offers a systematic account of the nature and foundations of rights. The book carefully elucidates what political freedom is and demonstrates why it should be protected by rights. Smith's thesis is that rights are teleological: respect for freedom is necessary for individuals' flourishing or eudaimonia. Smith illustrates how many alleged rights would actually undermine that objective. Her decisive refutation of the assumption that conflicts between rights are inevitable—demonstrating how such conflicts are theoretically incoherent and practically self-defeating—should go a long way toward resolving many contemporary disputes about rights.

 

http://web.a.ebscohost.com/abstract?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=01675249&AN=58776760&h=dYFFb%2fpp0DVDxUB4dEqXLQ94D24Myci%2baeSwVWOXQld0cLPwbD0FzIdf1DUgInw8eH%2fLtaOi76oHHC7sGOoXWg%3d%3d&crl=f&resultNs=AdminWebAuth&resultLocal=ErrCrlNotAuth&crlhashurl=login.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26profile%3dehost%26scope%3dsite%26authtype%3dcrawler%26jrnl%3d01675249%26AN%3d58776760

On deriving rights to goods from rights to freedom

  • Source: Law & Philosophy . Aug1992, Vol. 11 Issue 3, p217-234. 18p.
  • Author(s): SMITH, TARA
  • Abstract:This paper examines a particular type of argument often employed to defend welfare fights. This argument contends that welfare fights are a necessary supplement to liberty rights because fights to freedom become hollow when their bearers are not able to take advantage of their freedom. Rights to be provided with certain goods are thus a natural outgrowth of a genuine concern to protect freedom. I argue that this reasoning suffers from two fatal flaws. First, it rests on an erroneous notion of what it is to have a right, neglecting the fact that the exact source of a person's inability to exercise a fight is crucial to determining whether that fight is being respected. Second, the argument equivocates as to the "freedom" that fights are intended to protect, sometimes confusing freedom with ability, sometimes confusing not being free with not having other desired things, and sometimes confusing what a person is able to do with what a person is entitled to do.

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I would not start with a contemporary socialist-influenced concept of “right” which means “the entitlement to have a thing”. I would also set aside the question of whether rights can be “proven”. Instead, I would start with the simple problem of moral evaluation: do you accept that there is a difference between “right” versus “wrong”? There is a good chance that your interlocutor does not believe in “right” vs. “wrong”, or “good” versus “evil”, so any discussion that presumes such a distinction when the other party rejects the distinction can go nowhere useful. You really have to start with the foundation, not the middle (where you pray that you’re standing on a solid foundation). Since you seem to be working towards a logical exposition of “rights”, I would suggest first getting a firm grasp of the concept “value”, because without it, all ethical discussions are pointless. Notice in The Virtue of Selfishness that Rand does not start with the concept of rights, she builds up to it. (So see also OPAR and Tara Smith Viable Values). Point #2 of 2046's answer, elaborated by Smith, should help get you past the "morgue-avoidance" thery of "living".

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On 3/10/2018 at 10:29 AM, DavidOdden said:

I would not start with a contemporary socialist-influenced concept of “right” which means “the entitlement to have a thing”.

Thanks, David, but riparian rights are very hard to argue. For me, they are very hard to understand in the first place. From a Lockean perspective, if you dug the ditch and the well that created the river, yes I could argue that the river is yours in every way, the water etc.

But if you built a house, on a piece of land that is beside, the river, or as someone said, a fishery, I don't know what rights one should have to what, ... and why.

 

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Do you have the same problem with intellectual property rights, or, the time-dependent right to seek compensation for breach of contract? I assume you know for example that an author has the exclusive right to exploit a work that they have created; do you not know why that right is recognised for the author’s life plus 70 years, and not 50 years, or life plus 10? Do you don’t know why your right to compensation for breach of contract is 4 years (a mild overgeneralization). If these are also matters of unclarity for you, I think the issue is not the general concept of rights, but the problem of codifying the concept of rights in a legal system. Certain concepts regarding rights are of necessity defined only in the context of a law-governed society, such as statutes of limitation or IP duration. They cannot be divined by sheer reasoning.

In my opinion, riparian rights are a problem because if you banish the word “riparian”, it’s not clear what right you are claiming (or: what right you would be denying). What exactly do you mean by “riparian rights”? How do they differ from dirt rights? I don’t deny the validity of riparian rights: rather, I say they are the quintessential case of how articulating the exact extent of rights requires a legal context.

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