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The Nature of Rights

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ragingpanda
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Earlier this month, I posted regarding the nature of rights of human beings that lack the rational faculty (namely, young children). At the time, I had read only Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I was dismissed for my perceived lack of understanding of basic tenets of Objectivism and directed to read further. As such, I procured a copy of The Virtue of Selfishness, which was one of the works recommended to me by members of this forum. I did not consult sources credited to the Ayn Rand Institute. I also reviewed “The One Minute Case for Individual Rights”.

As of right now, based upon my limited knowledge, I remain unconvinced that Rand’s argument for inherent rights of human beings is rationally supported. As such, I hold that rights must arise by virtue of an enforceable Social Contract (that conforms to a rationally derived system of ethics) and, as such, must exclude any being, human or otherwise, that has never been capable of exercising its rational faculty (the sleeping man, as well as the insane man, would be entitled to rights, assuming that he was, at some point, capable of exercising his rational faculty and, by virtue of said exercise, presumptively, entered into an enforceable Social Contract).

Rand offers barely two paragraphs in her essay “Man’s Rights” from The Virtue of Selfishness on the nature of rights. In the rest of the essay, Rand describes rights, promotes capitalism as the only system capable of sustaining rights and illuminates the absurdity of the concept of so-called collective rights (she continues these discussions in her essay “Collectivized Rights”).

For purposes of this post, I will focus on the two paragraphs that concern the nature of rights. I will not comment on “The One Minute Case for Individual Rights”, as it merely echoes Rand’s position. First, Rand asserts: “he [man] is an entity of a specific kind – a rational being… he cannot function successfully under coercion.” Man’s right to freedom from coercion is, according to Rand, synonymous with man’s right to life because (to paraphrase from “One Minute Case”) if man is not free to think and act on his judgment, he is incapable of achieving the values necessary to sustain his life. Based on this premise, Rand concludes: “rights are conditions of existence required by Man’s nature for his proper survival.” Then, her argument ends, as if she had proven that human beings have rights.

It appears to me that she is guilty of the fallacy that she frequently attributes to proponents of altruism – namely, that need creates entitlement: a human being must have rights to survive and, as such, is entitled to rights. Furthermore, she ignores or, for some reason, chooses not to address questions that her position necessarily raises. After all, beings that lack rational capacity, including animals and fetuses and human babies, would all benefit immensely if the concept of rights were extended to them. Their likelihood of survival would greatly increase. Ultimately, it makes no difference whether one must be free to use his mind to survive or be free from being killed and eaten to survive or be free from being exposed to the cold by her parents before her mind and muscles are fully developed to survive.

If one accepts the Objectivist position, as I’ve understood (misunderstood?) and summarized it, then one must also accept that pro-life and animal rights activists are acting according to Objectivist ideals. I do not believe that the Objectivist position on the subject of the nature of rights is rationally sound. I, therefore, hold that man has rights not because he is man, but because he is a rational being who takes certain steps toward procuring protection for his values. As such, in the spirit of intellectual honesty and with a deep sigh, I must accept the fact that children, whose rational faculty is not yet developed, are not entitled to any rights.

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As of right now, based upon my limited knowledge, I remain unconvinced that Rand’s argument for inherent rights of human beings is rationally supported. As such, I hold that rights must arise by virtue of an enforceable Social Contract (that conforms to a rationally derived system of ethics) and, as such, must exclude any being, human or otherwise, that has never been capable of exercising its rational faculty (the sleeping man, as well as the insane man, would be entitled to rights, assuming that he was, at some point, capable of exercising his rational faculty and, by virtue of said exercise, presumptively, entered into an enforceable Social Contract).

I see quite a big problem there. You are stating that an individual right must first be approved/sanctioned by another before it is a right. That is not a right, that is an agreement.

As I see it, by definition, a right (properly understood) is inalienable. Anything that can be revoked is not a right. With that, the following makes perfect sense to me:

(from Virtue of Selfishness)

There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life.

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I must accept the fact that children, whose rational faculty is not yet developed, are not entitled to any rights.

In a world where children have no rights, parents or anyone else may beat, enslave and sexually abuse children just because they are not mature enough by some twisted standard.

I see quite a big problem there. You are stating that an individual right must first be approved/sanctioned by another before it is a right. That is not a right, that is an agreement.

How can right be inalienable if it is by definition social? Right is an outcome of an agreement weather you like the philosophy behind it or not.

Edited by Uriah
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ragingpanda

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. It is due to man's nature as a being of volitional consciousness that necessitates this concept. The key words are "moral" and "action."

It preserves and protects individual morality in a social context - links ethics and politics.

Children are not excluded: they have a rational faculty but simply need assistance at a young age to protect their rights.

Their are capable at a lower level to exercise that faculty.

Any non-human lacks a rational faculty, and thus the need for morality to survive.

Man's rights are a requirement for survival, not any subjective need. "Needs", as you seem to use the term, apply to specific entities, not fundamental requirements for survival.

Yes, animals would benefit if rights applied to them; but their nature simply does not warrent that. Activists you noted ask for protection of non-humans for subjective reasons.

Man has rights not because he is man, but because he is a rational being who takes certain steps toward procuring protection for his values. As such, in the spirit of intellectual honesty and with a deep sigh, I must accept the fact that children, whose rational faculty is not yet developed, are not entitled to any rights.

You can't distinguish between "man" and "rational being". Children fall in the same category as adults, development or not.

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It appears to me that she is guilty of the fallacy that she frequently attributes to proponents of altruism – namely, that need creates entitlement: a human being must have rights to survive and, as such, is entitled to rights.

"Need does not create entitlement". In what context? Need of what? Entitlement to what?

Rand's idea was that one man's need of material goods to support his life does not make him entitled to steal those goods from another man. What would it imply to have a "right" to another man's life and property? It would mean that the other man's rights must be violated in order to guarantee his rights. That would be a contradiction.

Rights, properly defined, should have non-contradictory implementation. In other words, for a man's rights to be protected, no other man's rights need to be violated.

After all, beings that lack rational capacity, including animals and fetuses and human babies, would all benefit immensely if the concept of rights were extended to them. Their likelihood of survival would greatly increase.

If survival of animals and fetuses imply a claim on a healthy man's life, wouldn't that be immensely contradictory? A pregnant woman's right to her life, which implies her right to her own body supersedes any alleged "rights" a fetus may have. This is because a fetus is, at best, a potential human being.

As to human babies, they also have rights, except that their parents or guardians have the sole authority to exercise them until they get older.

Ultimately, it makes no difference whether one must be free to use his mind to survive or be free from being killed and eaten to survive or be free from being exposed to the cold by her parents before her mind and muscles are fully developed to survive.

"Be free from being killed and eaten", at whose expense? Animals do not have a conceptual faculty; how will they exercise their "rights"? For example, would they stop eating other animals?

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As I see it, by definition, a right (properly understood) is inalienable. Anything that can be revoked is not a right.

Try invoking your right to life before a hungry bear who is about to eat you. If the bear could talk, he'd tell you that he is not a rational being and, as such, has no obligation to respect your rights, no matter how inalienable you consider them to be.

All bears aside, however, I'm at a loss. Rationally speaking, how does one come about inalienable rights?

That is not a right, that is an agreement.

This is precisely my problem: I cannot conceive of rights except as arising out of agreements, enforceable contracts between rational beings, where consideration is exchanged.

There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life.

I agree with this statement. Unfortunately, nothing about it indicates that the right to life is inalienable or that it does not arise by virtue of contract.

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In a world where children have no rights, parents or anyone else may beat, enslave and sexually abuse children just because they are not mature enough by some twisted standard.

Actually, only the specific parent of the specific child could, hypothetically and against his/her own rational self-interest, beat, enslave and sexually abuse his/her specific child. No adult could beat, enslave and sexually abuse the child of another, however, without violating the rights of the parent of that child.

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Man's rights are a requirement for survival, not any subjective need. "Needs", as you seem to use the term, apply to specific entities, not fundamental requirements for survival.

I think he means that "it sounds like Rand is saying that man needs rights, therefore he has rights." Nothing else. Obviously, that doesn't prove anything. But it does suggest rights are good. That seems to be the primary issue.

Ragingpanda, there is no social contract, so rights cannot derive from that.

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=17637 has a similar discussion.

Edited by Eiuol
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ragingpanda

Try invoking your right to life before a hungry bear who is about to eat you. If the bear could talk, he'd tell you that he is not a rational being and, as such, has no obligation to respect your rights, no matter how inalienable you consider them to be.

Having a right says nothing about the ability of someone or something else to impede on one's actions.

The bear can not negate your right, only your temporary ability to exercise it.

Inalienable means that which one cannot take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate; rights apply to all human beings.

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"Need does not create entitlement". In what context? Need of what? Entitlement to what?

Rand's idea was that one man's need of material goods to support his life does not make him entitled to steal those goods from another man. What would it imply to have a "right" to another man's life and property? It would mean that the other man's rights must be violated in order to guarantee his rights. That would be a contradiction.

Rights, properly defined, should have non-contradictory implementation. In other words, for a man's rights to be protected, no other man's rights need to be violated.

Haha. You're right. There's not really a parallel there, but I just couldn't resist. Either way, I think that my point stands. Rand's only justification for the existence of rights is man's need of them. I find that wholly unsatisfactory.

"Be free from being killed and eaten", at whose expense? Animals do not have a conceptual faculty; how will they exercise their "rights"?

Children also lack a conceptual faculty. Children cannot exercise their "rights" either.

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Having a right says nothing about the ability of someone or something else to impede on one's actions.

The bear can not negate your right, only your temporary ability to exercise it.

Inalienable means that which one cannot take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate; rights apply to all human beings.

In my example, the bear is guilty of taking away, suspending, infringing, restricting and violating your right to life. Furthermore, the bear is not acting unethically in doing so.

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there is no social contract, so rights cannot derive from that.

What is the United States Constitution if not a social contract?

Children also lack a conceptual faculty. Children cannot exercise their "rights" either.

So how about giving up school?

Edited by Uriah
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I think he means that "it sounds like Rand is saying that man needs rights, therefore he has rights." Nothing else. Obviously, that doesn't prove anything. But it does suggest rights are good. That seems to be the primary issue.

Ragingpanda, there is no social contract, so rights cannot derive from that.

Thanks for the additional reading material.

According to Rand, 'is good' does not mean 'exists'.

Why does everyone keep saying that there is no Social Contract? It's true that there doesn't have to be a Social Contract. A Social Contract is created by men and does not exist until then. Are you suggesting that men are incapable of entering into Social Contracts?

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In my example, the bear is guilty of taking away, suspending, infringing, restricting and violating your right to life. Furthermore, the bear is not acting unethically in doing so.

It is violating but not taking away. Remember, "rights" is a moral concept, not a political/social one.

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ragingpanda

A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. It is due to man's nature as a being of volitional consciousness that necessitates this concept. The key words are "moral" and "action."

It preserves and protects individual morality in a social context - links ethics and politics.

That's good. A man's highest value is his own life. A rational man derives his ethics from his need to promote his highest value. As such, anything that promotes his life is good, and anything that would destroy it is evil. Where one man takes the life of another man, he is acting unethically and condemning himself to the same fate. No Social Contract required. Very good.

Children are not excluded: they have a rational faculty but simply need assistance at a young age to protect their rights.

Their are capable at a lower level to exercise that faculty.

Any non-human lacks a rational faculty, and thus the need for morality to survive.

Whether children are excluded or not is a factual determination, and it is based on whether or not they possess the rational faculty. If they don't, they cannot be said to rely on a rationally derived system of ethics for survival.

You can't distinguish between "man" and "rational being". Children fall in the same category as adults, development or not.

I just don't see it. Surely, a man who lacks rational capacity cannot be considered a rational being.

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As of right now, based upon my limited knowledge, I remain unconvinced that Rand’s argument for inherent rights of human beings is rationally supported.

A right is a freedom to an action act. If it's unclear that you have rights, try moving your arm: if it works, you have the freedom to act, therefor you do have some kind of rights. What kind of rights are logically supported by the morality of selfishness, is a more complicated story, but as far as freedom to act, that's a pretty obvious thing people have.

It appears to me that she is guilty of the fallacy that she frequently attributes to proponents of altruism – namely, that need creates entitlement: a human being must have rights to survive and, as such, is entitled to rights.

Entitled to rights doesn't really mean anything. Individual rights are the freedom to a certain type of actions (the kind that are not initiation of force against other people). It is pretty obvious that people have the capacity to

1. act freely;

2. distinguish actions that are not initiation of force against others from those that are;

Since that's what rights are, it's obvious that people have them. Entitlement would be to ask for things you don't already have. Saying that I need to be able to move my eyes, for instance (which is a basic example of a type of action I can perform and have a right to perform), causes me to be entitled, is meaningless. Why would my request that I be allowed to move my eyes, by my own power, be entitlement, if I can already do it? What exactly am I asking another person for?

If one accepts the Objectivist position, as I’ve understood (misunderstood?) and summarized it, then one must also accept that pro-life and animal rights activists are acting according to Objectivist ideals. I do not believe that the Objectivist position on the subject of the nature of rights is rationally sound. I, therefore, hold that man has rights not because he is man, but because he is a rational being who takes certain steps toward procuring protection for his values. As such, in the spirit of intellectual honesty and with a deep sigh, I must accept the fact that children, whose rational faculty is not yet developed, are not entitled to any rights.

I think you ended that sigh a bit fast. Most adults don't seem to be procuring sufficient protection for their values either. And while we're at it, what are the steps you're taking to protect yourself, from me for instance (I have soldiers among my family and friends, so keep in mind that we could mount a pretty serious assault, if I decided to disregard your rights until you take sufficient steps to protect them from an organized, well armed attack)

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I think you ended that sigh a bit fast. Most adults don't seem to be procuring sufficient protection for their values either. And while we're at it, what are the steps you're taking to protect yourself, from me for instance (I have soldiers among my family and friends, so keep in mind that we could mount a pretty serious assault, if I decided to disregard your rights until you take sufficient steps to protect them from an organized, well armed attack)

Touché.

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Whether children are excluded or not is a factual determination, and it is based on whether or not they possess the rational faculty. If they don't, they cannot be said to rely on a rationally derived system of ethics for survival.

I just don't see it. Surely, a man who lacks rational capacity cannot be considered a rational being.

Every good argument ultimately is seated in epistemology. Every bad argument ultimately is seated in bad epistemology.

Put down the ethics and politics and get Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. The problem here is that a man is essentially a rational being, but not equal to a rational being. You can't reason validly by substituting "rational animal" for "man" in every proposition. A full explanation of why this is so is in that volume. Sorry to bounce you to another book, but it is truly fundamental and can't be helped.

A corpse is not a man, but a sleeping man is still a man and a child is still a man. Yes, children have a conceptual faculty and they spend their childhood learning the simple concepts taken for granted in adulthood.

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