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Can we treat humans without a rational capacity as property?

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fatdogs12
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I've shown a direct quote from Rand that says that not all humans are afforded the same rights and that their rational capacity is the reason for that.

Yes, and that same quote says they should be cared for as perpetual children, not that they become someone's property. You can't use just part of the quote and ignore the rest. By that I would infer that not maintaining the same rights does not mean they give up the right not to be treated as property. I think she means they don't have the rights they can't assert, like owning property or keeping what they earn and such since they can't earn.

I guess that means they just have the legal responsibility for them?

Legal (and moral) responsibility to safeguard their rights does not make them owners of the children.

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Ok, so let me get this straight.

1) A the fundamental characteristic/premise/thing that makes the concept 'man', is his rational faculty/conceptual faculty/ability to reason/volition (all being co-dependent, hence my use of all the words, and because I'm not sure which is the most accurate one to use, to describe all of them)

2) Because of this fundamental characteristic, man can only live by Reason

3) Rights are created as a way, to say that men, in a social context, can only survive by free, non-coerced trade (be that of values, or ideas, or words, or whatever), because he is a rational, value-trading, volitional being

4) These rights extend to all men born, regardless of anything (apart from actions taken later in life, which result in the temporary suspension of his rights - i.e. a prison sentence)

5) The baby of a human mother, born without that fundamental characteristic we discussed earlier, is incapable of reasoning (for the sake of argument anyway; I think we could extend this to someone who, somehow, lost his conceptual faculty altogether, but let's not go into that for now)

6) This baby is still a human, by virtue of having almost all the things that make it human. It is a sub-concept of human, a sub-conceptual category we call a 'broken unit'

7) (And this may be summed up as the crux of the argument pro-rights) By virtue of being human, it has rights.

Is this your line of argument, Steve, David Odden and others? Am I missing something here? Because I just don't understand how 7 follows from the rest, that just because it is a human, it still has rights, even though rights would make absolutely no sense to this being. You claim it has rights, but it cannot exercise them... but rights aren't static things, they are created to dictate action, but this creature cannot take any action described as being protected by human rights, since it is not, and cannot act, by any quanta of reasoning.

(N.B. It seems that actually, a human with no conceptual faculty would just die, unless on life support, since it could never figure out that 'Food is good', 'Food is here', 'This is how to gain food', 'This is how to chew food', 'Now I know how to satisfy this urge to eat'.)

Edited by Tenure
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3) Rights are created as a way, to say that men, in a social context, can only survive by free, non-coerced trade (be that of values, or ideas, or words, or whatever), because he is a rational, value-trading, volitional being.
Rather, rights are a type of moral concept which define how society may act, with respect to the individual. Rights are what they are because men can only survive by free, non-coerced trade; but you shouldn't equate "rights" and "the justification for rights". We have to have some definite statement of these rights, for example "man's life is his by right". You may propose alternative statements of rights, for example "a dog's life is his by right", which flies in the face of reality and is not objectively justified (I mean, it's just plain nuts). You may also propose the statement "an entity with a fully functioning rational faculty's life is his by right". I have numerous reasons why I think that's not a good idea, but maybe you want to restate the basic principle of rights.
4) These rights extend to all men born, regardless of anything (apart from actions taken later in life, which result in the temporary suspension of his rights - i.e. a prison sentence)
At least if your concept of "rights" is the shorter one I offered.
5) The baby of a human mother, born without that fundamental characteristic we discussed earlier, is incapable of reasoning (for the sake of argument anyway; I think we could extend this to someone who, somehow, lost his conceptual faculty altogether, but let's not go into that for now)
Maybe, but irrelevant if you hold that "man's life is his by right".
(N.B. It seems that actually, a human with no conceptual faculty would just die, unless on life support, since it could never figure out that 'Food is good', 'Food is here', 'This is how to gain food', 'This is how to chew food', 'Now I know how to satisfy this urge to eat'.)
Well, as I've mentioned, they usually die within hours or days of birth. Men with a seriously impaired rational faculty aren't entities totally lacking in a rational faculty.
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Maybe, but irrelevant if you hold that "man's life is his by right".

I feel really dense now, because I am just not getting this. Why are they his by right, when he can never exercise his rights? Don't they become meaningless rationalisations if we say, 'You have them, just because you're a man', instead of 'because you're a man, who possess the ability to reason'?

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Why are they his by right, when he can never exercise his rights?
Let's start with the more basic question: do you accept that

If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational.

Where we are going with this is to emphasize the point that needs to be emphasized once in a while, that living by principle is essential to man's existence qua man -- we don't successfully live according to the range of the moment.

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I accept that. But see, you right that, that he has a right to live as a rational being. But if he has no choice, no ability, to ever be rational, either because he has no conceptual faculty, or he is metaphysically bound to be forever comatose from birth, or whatever, then how can he ever need any right? How can it be unequivocally be granted to one who cannot live by anything you just quoted?

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How can it be unequivocally be granted to one who cannot live by anything you just quoted?

I'll step in to say that (imo) it's because every human being born is to be protected under law (which bans the initiation of physical force). Whatever rights they can excercise or not excercise due to their conditions/abilities, are to be protected nonetheless, the freedom to excercise them is protected. This has to do with the "right to life."

Edited by intellectualammo
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... we are also talking about someone below the level of most animals. ...Essentially we are talking about a person lower than a dog as far as abilities mental and otherwise go, definitely far below a monkey.
I'd agree that there is some point of being vegetative where I would rather someone pulled the plug on me, even though I once had a rational faculty. So, I agree at a philosophic level. (Added: Not trying to speak for Objectivism, but as a matter of personal philosophy.) Edited by softwareNerd
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But if he has no choice, no ability, to ever be rational, either because he has no conceptual faculty, or he is metaphysically bound to be forever comatose from birth, or whatever, then how can he ever need any right?
That's less important, and take second place to the question "What may others do to another person?". Hence my continued demand that you try to frame your alternative in terms of an objectively interpretable legal statement. The obvious problem with the alternative "an entity with a fully functioning rational faculty's life is his by right" is that we now have to seriously ask "Which are the entities with a fully functioning rational faculty?". A doctor cannot tell you that Baby Doe does not have a rational faculty at all; and it seems to me that "fully functioning" misses way too many people. The argument is predicated on an "if" / "let's assume", one which I'd say cannot be freely granted.
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Yes, and that same quote says they should be cared for as perpetual children, not that they become someone's property. You can't use just part of the quote and ignore the rest. By that I would infer that not maintaining the same rights does not mean they give up the right not to be treated as property. I think she means they don't have the rights they can't assert, like owning property or keeping what they earn and such since they can't earn.

But see I'm not ignoring the quote at all, I want to use the whole thing. You said

"Yes, and that same quote says they should be cared for as perpetual children"

This does not apply to our special case because her reasoning was:

"Like children, retarded people are entitled to protection because, as humans, they may improve and become partly able to stand on their own."

In our situation the person cannot ever "improve and become partly able to stand on their own". They will never stand on their own. So her reason for granting them rights in this case is simply moot.

Edited by fatdogs12
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That's less important, and take second place to the question "What may others do to another person?"

Hence the protection I had mentioned.

doctor cannot tell you that Baby Doe does not have a rational faculty at all; and it seems to me that "fully functioning" misses way too many people. The argument is predicated on an "if" / "let's assume", one which I'd say cannot be freely granted.

I agree with you.

Edited by intellectualammo
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In our situation the person cannot ever "improve and become partly able to stand on their own". They will never stand on their own. So her reason for granting them rights in this case is simply moot.

If you use that logic then the quote is not useful in answering your situation at all as she does not address your "special case". And it doesn't change my position about why rights exist for humans, at least the right to one's own life however much that one cannot actually use it. They aren't simply someone else's property under that condition.

Apart from that, I would agree and defer to David's last post explaining the precariousness of the assumption you are making about their rational faculty. This is yet again why I generally disdain examining such hypotheticals; the amount of assumption involved that may be disconnected from reality.

I concur that they cannot have all the same rights as normally functioning human beings as a practical matter. There are some things they simply cannot do which necessitate those rights to be even in play. However, I see no mechanism or principle in place that says the life they do have can be made the property of some of other person. No one has to support them, but no one gains the right to do with them what they will. But in the same sense that they cannot assert or act on their right to exist, nor can a man in a coma or an infant. That does not then mean anybody can do to them what they want.

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I did not wade through the whole thread, so my apologies if I repeat someone else's arguments.

Let's get a few things straight:

1) One does not build a general case base on exceptions. ergo whatever the status of an anencephalic individual may be has no bearing on people at large.

2) Aside from anencephalics or people with severe brain dammage (such as the late Terry Schiavo), any human, even severely retarded ones, have more in the way of rational faculties than any animal.

3) Parents usually get attached to their children long before they are born, mothers in particular. Therefore when a child is stillborn, or is born with a birth defect that will surely kill him soon, or is born so prematurely he will likely die soon, or is born anencephalic and will die soon, the parents will still regard him as their child.

They'll want to name him (it is done), they'll grieve over him and they will want to give him a funeral and bury him. Since no one can deny the parents are fully possesed of rights, then nothing can be done with or to their child, for whom they are responsible, without their permission.

So to answer the question: No.

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If you use that logic then the quote is not useful in answering your situation at all as she does not address your "special case". And it doesn't change my position about why rights exist for humans, at least the right to one's own life however much that one cannot actually use it. They aren't simply someone else's property under that condition.

It shows the principle by which they are granted rights. That is all I have been addressing. Ayn says:

Men are granted rights because of X.

Retarded people are still granted rights because of Y.

She specifically says Y is the reason they have rights. Since their rights are predicated on that and since he never had that which it was predicated upon I cannot see how we can derive that this person has any rights.

Even if they are not property, I cannot see how they have any rights. They are not at all rational beings, they will never be rational beings.

What rights can non rational beings have?

I completely understand why any rational being should have rights. But someone who cannot conceptualize anything at all I cannot see how that follows.

I did not wade through the whole thread, so my apologies if I repeat someone else's arguments.

Let's get a few things straight:

1) One does not build a general case base on exceptions. ergo whatever the status of an anencephalic individual may be has no bearing on people at large.

I don't see how that's relevant. The general case is simply that man deserves rights because he is rational. They are only given rights because they are rational.

2) Aside from anencephalics or people with severe brain dammage (such as the late Terry Schiavo), any human, even severely retarded ones, have more in the way of rational faculties than any animal.

There are definitely retarded people who are pretty much at Schiavo's level, not brain dead but incapable of much of anything.

3) Parents usually get attached to their children long before they are born, mothers in particular. Therefore when a child is stillborn, or is born with a birth defect that will surely kill him soon, or is born so prematurely he will likely die soon, or is born anencephalic and will die soon, the parents will still regard him as their child.

They'll want to name him (it is done), they'll grieve over him and they will want to give him a funeral and bury him. Since no one can deny the parents are fully possesed of rights, then nothing can be done with or to their child, for whom they are responsible, without their permission.

In the example we are using the person has no parents. He could have been abandoned or his parents desire to sell his body for research.

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I completely understand why any rational being should have rights. But someone who cannot conceptualize anything at all I cannot see how that follows.

We'll just have to remain in disagreement then and I'll let my previous posts stand for my position.

Edited by RationalBiker
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We'll just have to remain in disagreement then and I'll let my previous posts stand for my position.

I will re-read all your previous posts and go through OPAR again to see if I can get what you are

getting at. Not trying to be argumentative about the issue, I just truly do not see the reasoning

though I think I understand what you are saying (could be wrong though).

We'll see. Either way I appreciate your input

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So I was wondering if the same would be true with humans who are so retarded they do not have any rational capacity. Maybe they can walk around, but cannot talk, don't understand concepts (I assume they were born this way) and lets say have less of a brain than a dog. And because of the nature of their problems they will not at any point in the future have a rational capacity

Now assuming no one wants to support this person by charity could this person be bought by companies and have similar things done to it? Like have parts of their skin removed to give it to burn victims, or amputate appendages to give to soldiers, etc?

Leonard Peikoff explained that in his latest podcast.

In short, as rational being, man has rights. A retarded man is still a man, so he has rights too, as well as comatosed man or a newborn child. And because he has rights, no one can buy him - that would violate his right to life.

Now about dogs, cruelty is evil. Period.

Edited by lex_aver
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  • 1 month later...
Do I have rights because my DNA indicates that I'm human? Or do I have rights because I have the ability to reason?
You have rights because you are a man. Conceptually, men have rights because it is their nature to survive by reason, and rights are those conditions necessary for man to survive in accordance with his nature.
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Ethics and politics, and thus rights, pertain to rational beings. If a being has no rational faculty, ethics are meaningless to it, it has no rights. If this being is biologically related to rational beings, this does not change the fact that it is not a rational being itself and has no rights.

Individual rights are not derived from our DNA, nor from who our parents were. They are a consequence of our nature - not in general, but each individual's nature. If you suffer a severe car crash and end up irreversibly brain dead, you have no rights (it should, in fact, be legal to kill you).

In the proposed example, the brainless baby is not a rational being (it is not even a potential rational being, like a fetus). It has no rights.

The folks arguing otherwise should reexamine their reasoning. Rights are not derived from man's collective nature, nor are they "granted" (as a courtesy or otherwise). You have rights (are a rational being) or you don't (are not a rational being). Whether and to what extent others respect those rights, is a whole different question.

Edited by mrocktor
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If a being has no rational faculty, ethics are meaningless to it, it has no rights.

In part, I think it is difficult to answer this issue because it is really philosophy of law area, specifically on how far property rights extend, and if rights can be extended to broken units of human beings.

I dislike mrocktor's response:

Rights are not derived from man's collective nature, nor are they "granted" (as a courtesy or otherwise).

I myself agree that rights are not derived from man's collective nature, which could be problematic when considering the rights that would then be granted to children, or the slightly mentally-retarded. But I don't necessarily agree that we can't extend certain freedoms to broken units of human beings (based on the rights of beings with rational faculties), which allows them to live free of physical force, and free from being treated exclusively as property (like to the point of cannibalism).

As a general policy, I'm beginning to understand and then craftily avoid instances of rationalism. This is what the original questioner, and those that now support him, seem to demonstrate to me when their argument basically consists of a deductive process:

"(Premise 1)If humans without rational faculties have no rights, then humans with rational faculties can do whatever they want with them (excluding violations of rights of humans with rational faculties).

(Premise 2) Humans without rational faculties by definition have no rights.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Conclusion) Human with rational faculties can do whatever action to them which does not violate someone's actual rights."

I'd rather that no one takes this as an insult; this is what their argument seems to be, and in form at least, it reminds me of a rationalist method of thinking.

I haven't really given this issue enough thought to justify a final answer, but at the moment I side with those who support extending such freedoms as courtesies. A hypothetical example of such courtesy-extending could occur if scientists were capable of restoring certain functions to a damaged brain, which could restore the person's rational faculty, and during the gap between the hospital stay and the surgery, the mentally-deficient man was afforded protection from physical force on the hospital's grounds.

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I'd like to add something else, which is bringing me closer towards fully supporting extending the rights as courtesies.

I suppose you could name it the "non-omniscient" argument. Human beings are not omniscient. We do not have a mystic insight which tells us that one man has no rational faculty and no guardians (and therefore can be captured, enslaved, barbecued, etc.), whereas other men do possess said faculty.

If I were to walk around town and see a group of people assaulting a defenseless man, I wouldn't honestly care if they told me:

"Oh, it's okay, he has no rational faculty and no guardians. See, I have here his medical documents to prove it."

I would still report it to the police as an assault. The same would apply to my witnessing a kidnapping or murder of a person who in fact turned out to have no rational faculty.

This is why I'm saying this is philosophy of law area. This mainly concerns DavidOdden's question a few posts back, "What may others do to another person?" It concerns how the existence or non-existence of rights is to be implemented in daily life, as well as I what I said in the previous post.

Whether or not the person has rights, an act of force on another man, even if it doesn't properly violate the person's rights, would have to be treated socially as a threat to everyone else. Once a man uses force upon another human, it can no longer be ascertained whether or not he will use force upon a human with rights. Excluding the characteristics which follow from possessing a rational faculty, such humans share all of the other characteristics with humans who do possess rational faculties. As such, I very much doubt that other people could or would deal with men who do terrible things to human beings whom are lacking a characteristic, albeit an essential one.

I could then argue that courtesies should be afforded to men without rational faculties on the epistemological grounds that we cannot know if a man who threatens or damages the life of a man without such a faculty (thereby becoming a threat to every individual) would refrain from violating other people's actual rights.

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I'd like to add something else, which is bringing me closer towards fully supporting extending the rights as courtesies.

I suppose you could name it the "non-omniscient" argument. Human beings are not omniscient. We do not have a mystic insight which tells us that one man has no rational faculty and no guardians (and therefore can be captured, enslaved, barbecued, etc.), whereas other men do possess said faculty.

If I were to walk around town and see a group of people assaulting a defenseless man, I wouldn't honestly care if they told me:

"Oh, it's okay, he has no rational faculty and no guardians. See, I have here his medical documents to prove it."

I would still report it to the police as an assault. The same would apply to my witnessing a kidnapping or murder of a person who in fact turned out to have no rational faculty.

This is why I'm saying this is philosophy of law area. This mainly concerns DavidOdden's question a few posts back, "What may others do to another person?" It concerns how the existence or non-existence of rights is to be implemented in daily life, as well as I what I said in the previous post.

Whether or not the person has rights, an act of force on another man, even if it doesn't properly violate the person's rights, would have to be treated socially as a threat to everyone else. Once a man uses force upon another human, it can no longer be ascertained whether or not he will use force upon a human with rights. Excluding the characteristics which follow from possessing a rational faculty, such humans share all of the other characteristics with humans who do possess rational faculties. As such, I very much doubt that other people could or would deal with men who do terrible things to human beings whom are lacking a characteristic, albeit an essential one.

I could then argue that courtesies should be afforded to men without rational faculties on the epistemological grounds that we cannot know if a man who threatens or damages the life of a man without such a faculty (thereby becoming a threat to every individual) would refrain from violating other people's actual rights.

Hmm, I suppose then that such extension would no longer be merely a "courtesy," but based on a principle which integrates what a person can know in a given situation, the issue of rights vs. non-rights, the non-initiation of force, and the uncertainty of trusting a man to not violate rights, when he doesn't respect human life.

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You have rights because you are a man. Conceptually, men have rights because it is their nature to survive by reason, and rights are those conditions necessary for man to survive in accordance with his nature.

Then how does someone in a permanent vegetative state fall under the classification of man if he/she doesn't survive by reason?

Are you arguing that it is this person's nature to survive by reason, even though they cannot physically do so?

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Then how does someone in a permanent vegetative state fall under the classification of man if he/she doesn't survive by reason?
The correct progression is from fact to definition, not definition to fact. That is, a man is a man, period, and the definition in terms of "rational animal" is derived from identifying the essential characteristics of men. Look at Rand's explanation of the developing definition of "man" in a child. It's not that the definition is always right and thus the nature of man is constantly changing, it is that the nature of man is actually constant, and the definition changes so that it correctly describes all of the units subsumed under "man". Many "definitions" are in fact ineffable, for example ordinary words like "dog", "tree" etc. You unquestionably have knowledge of what these things are, even if you cannot give an exact definition similar to "rational animal".

Finally, if we were to encounter a race of giant methane-breathing space-spiders with a rational faculty who nonetheless were compelled to eat humans to survive, we would not call them men. A new concept would have to be created.

A separate problem is whether a given being has a rational faculty. It may or may not be the case that a being in a particular medical state no longer has a rational faculty, but whether that is so is not an axiomatic matter. Even is one held that only beings with a rational faculty have rights, you would have to have strong and objective criteria for distinguishing "clearly has no rational faculty" (dogs and trees) from "might have a rational faculty" (people with damaged brains).

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