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Broken units, broken men

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That's a lot of questions. I'll focus on this:

Certainly, insanity exists - and it has a very wide spectrum, which further confounds the issue. I'm questioning what principle directs the law to take special cognizance of someone's insanity.
,... and I'll ask a counter-question: why does the state take cognizance of the age of a very young child? If an extremely young child, just barely able to play with a gun picks it up and shoots someone from my family, should the state prosecute him without cognizance of his age? Whether or not the person who left the gun around is also prosecuted is not the question here. The question is what view should be taken of the human being who pulled the trigger?
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No, it is exactly the right question he should ask.

Hotu Matua wants to protect severely mentally damaged human beings but he thinks they do not have rights so naturally this is a problem. But they DO have rights, so the question of justifiably protecting them is easy. The only thing which is not easy, for him and a few others here, is recognizing a human being. Applying the concept man to a specific unit is the essence of the problem here, so asking about the concept of man is exactly the right question to ask. What he did not understand about the broken units idea was that broken units are still inside the concept. Broken men are still men.

Hi Grames

Normally it is not difficult for any of us to recognize a human being. But sometimes it happens.

If asking aobut the concept of man is exactly the right question to ask, let me ask you

Which of the following statements matches the concept of human being?

  1. An individual with a DNA sequence capable to drive the development of a brain suitable for abstract thinking
  2. An individual with such a DNA sequence AND a fully developed brain suitable for abstract thinking
  3. An individual with such a DNA sequence, such a brain AND who actually performs abstract thinking.

Within the context of rights, I think we shoudl stick to the last concept.

Let's see what is the context within which Ayn Rand envisions rights:

"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 conciousness."

"A right is the sanction of independent action."

"An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living."

If there is no conceptual conciousness in a human being (meaning, a regular excercise of conceptual conciousness, a quality that can be objectively observed and proven to exist), and no independent action, it is meaningless to speak about rights.

Conceptual conciousness seems to be essential to the concept of rights.

Rights do not exist to protect irrational beings from irrational beings, nor do they exist to protect irrational beings from rational beings, or rational beings from irrational beings.

They only exist to protect rational from rational. They arise from a mirror, a reflection of reality: I want to live my own life. You want the same thing. So we will defend our freedom from each other.

That's why I guess that we should distinguish between two contexts: the context of rights and the concept of values.

We just examined the context of rights.

Now, within the context of values, we can hold the life of a baby high in our hierarchy of values. And that is why we normally don't kill them or torture them or mistreat them. Nor do we allow other people to kill them or torture them, even if they are the parents.

We will not save babies because they have the right to live. We will save them because we want them to live. Because we normally prefer to live in a world with babies who can develop into productive, lovable adults. We can value potential. Potentiality has no rights, but may have a great value. We want to invest in these babies.

And we will not save severely retarded people from future Hitler's furnaces because they have a right to live. We'll do it because we want them to live. Because those beings are cherished memorials of humanity. Because their existence teach us things... because their mere existence elicit emotions and reflections about the human condition.

Certainly, it may happen, in a very rare circusmtance, that no one values one of these human beings, or that saving their life affects another person's right. In these cases it would be moral to end the life of the being or let him die.

Let me put three examples to this last notion:

1. An anti-abortion group could not intervene in the body of a mother without her consent to "rescue" her embryo, supposing such a thing could be technically feasible. They could only try to persuade her to give birth and give the child in adoption.

2. An anencephalic (brainless) newborn is not wanted by anyone, including the mother and any available organization. So we let it die, or kill it.

3. In a time of war, famine and genocide from which there is no objective escape, and no one offers help to take responsibility for the child, parents commit infanticide.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Which of the following statements matches the concept of human being?

  1. An individual with a DNA sequence capable to drive the development of a brain suitable for abstract thinking
  2. An individual with such a DNA sequence AND a fully developed brain suitable for abstract thinking
  3. An individual with such a DNA sequence, such a brain AND who actually performs abstract thinking.

Within the context of rights, I think we shoudl stick to the last concept.

"Abstract thinking" requires an explanation. If ancient peasant farmers or hunter-gatherers, whose lives and mental horizons are filled with concretes and first level concepts, do not count as abstract thinkers then you would need to not count them as human. If you do count them as abstract thinkers, then they are humans. Either way you are employing some theory of abstraction, i.e. an epistemological theory. If Objectivism is the epistemological philosophy you wish to apply, then the following comments are relevant.

The right answer is: None of the above. The concept of a human being, or person or man, is a first level concept available to even children. First level concepts are based on perceived (non-verbal) similarities and differences, and giving the concept a word or name is what captures it for later use. First level concepts are ostensive, they are demonstrated rather than defined. A DNA sequence is a scientific phenomenon not perceptible to the naked eye, it was never a part of forming the concept and has the status of scientific knowledge about the referent of the concept. I quoted a passage from ITOE about the difference between a concept's meaning and its referent in the broken units thread at post #106, where Ayn Rand clarifies this further.

It is not the case that an ostensive definition of man is somehow more vague and unspecific compared to using a DNA sequence. There is no standard way to measure and interpret the differences between two DNA sequences because there is no way to know what a particular DNA segment does without knowing how or even if that segment of the genotype is expressed in the phenotype. Two boys from different continents and different ethnic backgrounds may have more similar DNA than a brother and sister of the same family due to the X - Y chromosome difference. A nutritional deficiency or toxicity present in the mother can result in a theoretically valid genotype of a healthy baby ending up as nonviable and miscarried. What matters in recognizing a human being is what is self-evident, the fact known biologically as the phenotype, and the phenotype is ostensive.

Bioethics has the problem of reconciling two different contexts of knowledge, the scientific and the philosophical. Objectivism applies its theory of concepts to recognize the hierarchy of knowledge, and concludes that first level concepts and the more complex non-scientific concepts are the background and base from which philosophy and then science are built. The ethics in 'bioethics' trumps the biology. This will need to be explained to your bioethicist peers and debating opponents.

Let's see what is the context within which Ayn Rand envisions rights:

"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 conciousness."

"A right is the sanction of independent action."

"An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living."

If there is no conceptual conciousness in a human being (meaning, a regular excercise of conceptual conciousness, a quality that can be objectively observed and proven to exist), and no independent action, it is meaningless to speak about rights.

Conceptual conciousness seems to be essential to the concept of rights.

Rights do not exist to protect irrational beings from irrational beings, nor do they exist to protect irrational beings from rational beings, or rational beings from irrational beings.

They only exist to protect rational from rational. They arise from a mirror, a reflection of reality: I want to live my own life. You want the same thing. So we will defend our freedom from each other.

That's why I guess that we should distinguish between two contexts: the context of rights and the concept of values.

We just examined the context of rights.

So far so good, but this is incomplete. Rights have two contexts, first as the principles for social behavior and second as the proper organizing principle behind a valid legal system. If you live under a valid government which protects rights, then it is not up to you to decide when it is meaningless to speak of rights. For example, there is (or should be) the presumption that a newborn has rights, and it must be up to you to establish beyond doubt that this particular anacephalic newborn meets an objective legal standard of hopeless illness or deformity. The burden of proof is on whom would act. The same applies to the comatose, and those severely retarded enough to be as bad off as the comatose.

Now, within the context of values, we can hold the life of a baby high in our hierarchy of values. And that is why we normally don't kill them or torture them or mistreat them. Nor do we allow other people to kill them or torture them, even if they are the parents. We will not save babies because they have the right to live. We will save them because we want them to live. Because we normally prefer to live in a world with babies who can develop into productive, lovable adults. We can value potential. Potentiality has no rights, but may have a great value. We want to invest in these babies.
This is in error. That babies are objective values is not enough to justify forcibly intervening between abusive parents and their child. No value can be forcibly imposed on a person. What is forcibly imposed is protection of the right to life of the children, where force is justified by retaliation for a crime. The law codifying that crime can only be justified by a theory of rights.

(I'm not denying here your point that values cause motivations, that is correct. But mere motivations are not enough to justify laws protecting children, and rights are enough.)

And we will not save severely retarded people from future Hitler's furnaces because they have a right to live. We'll do it because we want them to live. Because those beings are cherished memorials of humanity. Because their existence teach us things... because their mere existence elicit emotions and reflections about the human condition.
"Future Hitler" connotes the prospect of both a foreign war and murderous tyrant. That tyrant would not be a future Hitler if his only 'crime' was feeding severely retarded people into furnaces. After all as you explained so well above rights require some degree of conceptual consciousness so he could hardly be said to be violating any rights, and there is no world government to whom he must justify himself objectively. But if there was a war to overthrow this person for other crimes then many retarded people might be saved as collateral beneficiaries.

Certainly, it may happen, in a very rare circusmtance, that no one values one of these human beings, or that saving their life affects another person's right. In these cases it would be moral to end the life of the being or let him die.

Let me put three examples to this last notion:

1. An anti-abortion group could not intervene in the body of a mother without her consent to "rescue" her embryo, supposing such a thing could be technically feasible. They could only try to persuade her to give birth and give the child in adoption.

2. An anencephalic (brainless) newborn is not wanted by anyone, including the mother and any available organization. So we let it die, or kill it.

3. In a time of war, famine and genocide from which there is no objective escape, and no one offers help to take responsibility for the child, parents commit infanticide.

I object to 3 (2 requires justification for action as I explained above, but if that requirement is met then is justified). War is not the kind of metaphysical emergency that suspends normal ethics. Famine is too slow acting to suspend ethics. Parents should not be killing their children even in these situations. Genocide is a fairly moot point, but if you are considering the case of mass suicides Masada-style to avoid mass rapine and slavery I can accept some people making that judgement.

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Thank you very much, Grames

This has been enlightening in many aspects and has given me new perspectives.

These are some commennts I have to your post

The right answer is: None of the above. The concept of a human being, or person or man, is a first level concept available to even children. First level concepts are based on perceived (non-verbal) similarities and differences, and giving the concept a word or name is what captures it for later use. First level concepts are ostensive, they are demonstrated rather than defined.

Your statemet made me think that the perceived, non-verbal smiliarties and differences that tell anyone, even a child, who is a human being and who/what is not, is shape, just like tables, dogs and cats.

Humans have a distinct shape and this makes human existents immediately distiguishable from dogs, even before we can have a clue about their ability for abstract or volitional thinking.

Having "human shape" as the essential feature, and not rational thinking, would suddenly bring all pieces together and solve the puzzle.

Embryos do not have a clear human shape. Born babies, comatose patients and severily retarded people do have a clear human shape.

A child who is shown a picture of a fertilized egg or an early embryo and asked "What is this?" would not automatically answer, "a person" (unless he is taught by other people to believe that). But if this child was taken to a hospital to see a comatose patient, and ask the same question, he would answer "A person" "A man" etc.

A DNA sequence is a scientific phenomenon not perceptible to the naked eye, it was never a part of forming the concept and has the status of scientific knowledge about the referent of the concept. I quoted a passage from ITOE about the difference between a concept's meaning and its referent in the broken units thread at post #106, where Ayn Rand clarifies this further.

Thank you for the link. I have read it now. I have not advanced enough in reading ITOE but I will make a point to read it carefully and bring questions to the forum.

This is in error. That babies are objective values is not enough to justify forcibly intervening between abusive parents and their child. No value can be forcibly imposed on a person. What is forcibly imposed is protection of the right to life of the children, where force is justified by retaliation for a crime. The law codifying that crime can only be justified by a theory of rights.

(I'm not denying here your point that values cause motivations, that is correct. But mere motivations are not enough to justify laws protecting children, and rights are enough.)

Yes, rights would work better than values (or motivation) to justify protection, as long as we take human shape, and not rationality, as the essential characteristic of the first level concept of men.

Because if we take rationality, then babies (at least up to one year of age or so) do not have rights. They have no more conceptual conciousness than a chimpanzee. They are potentially rational, but we do not recognize rights in potentialities. Thus, if babies have no rights, we could not enforce their protection.

My alternative is to expand the notion of State from only protecing rights to protecting a special kind of entities which, because of their nature, cannot be privately owned and are (almost) universally valued.

I know this is not something Objectivism has described, but I believe it is compatible with Objectivism and would also help to solve issues regarding the protection of air and seawater, for example.

With this in mind, if most people on earth value a painting somebody already legally owns and plans to destroy, no one can take it from the owner to save it from destruction, because that painting is property. But they could do it with a baby because babies are not property of their parents. Babies would be examples of these sort of "unownable, universally valued entities".

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Yes, rights would work better than values (or motivation) to justify protection, as long as we take human shape, and not rationality, as the essential characteristic of the first level concept of men. Because if we take rationality, then babies (at least up to one year of age or so) do not have rights. They have no more conceptual conciousness than a chimpanzee. They are potentially rational, but we do not recognize rights in potentialities. Thus, if babies have no rights, we could not enforce their protection.
This slips back into a faulty type of abstract thinking (unfortunately being encouraged by Grames) that is divorced from reality. What does it mean to take shape as essential and then say that things with that shape have rights? Why would one take shape as essential? The only reason you're doing this is that you are trying to find a way to encapsulate concrete instances into referents for your concept. However, you are doing this because you have already decided that instances of a certain type should have rights. Whether certain types of beings have rights depends on the characteristics of those beings, not on the choice of essential characteristic for use in the definition of the concept that refers to those beings.

Separately, here is the Rand quote I referred to in an earlier post. Note, it is not from a work she published, not prepared spoken remarks. Rather, this is an answer to a Q&A.

Do severely retarded individuals have rights?

Not actual rights -- not the same rights possessed by normal individuals. In effect, they have the right to be protected as perennial children. Like children, retarded people are entitled to protection because, as humans, they may improve and become partly able to stand on their own. The protection of rights is a courtesy extended to them for being human, even if not properly formed ones. But you could not extend the actual exercise of individual rights to a retarded person, because he is unable to function rationally. Since all rights rest on human nature, a being that cannot exercise rights cannot have full human rights. [Form Hall forum 1973]

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That's a lot of questions. I'll focus on this:,... and I'll ask a counter-question: why does the state take cognizance of the age of a very young child? If an extremely young child, just barely able to play with a gun picks it up and shoots someone from my family, should the state prosecute him without cognizance of his age? Whether or not the person who left the gun around is also prosecuted is not the question here. The question is what view should be taken of the human being who pulled the trigger?

Sorry about the number of questions, but I think they're all born from not understanding the underlying principle. I might get there with this question, but reserve my right to still be confused :) !

My first inclination is to say the state should certainly take his age into consideration. I think I've heard all the arguments for such a position: the child didn't have any understanding of what would happen; his rational mind is still developing; he can be reformed. It would be unfortunate to have prisons full of children, or to see one strapped to an electric chair. However, that doesn't ameliorate the fact that someone's right to live was violated. To whom does the state have an obligation? If the state's only job is to protect the rights of its citizens, then it must prosecute the child as it would prosecute anyone who has so violated another's rights.

What rights does the child have that the state is obligated to protect? Certainly he has the same right to live and not have force initiated upon him. But he initiated the force. Does he have the right to be given a break because of his age; because of his mental acuity? Well then, do we all get a break because of our age or mental acuity? Can I claim irrationality as a defense? When I start going senile in my old age, put on my clown suit, scale the clock tower with my AK-47 and start taking people out, can I claim age as a defense?

It seems to me the answer to these questions must be, "No." If irrationality is a defense then all initiation of force is grounds for leniency since all initiation of force is irrational.

Separately, here is the Rand quote I referred to in an earlier post. Note, it is not from a work she published, not prepared spoken remarks. Rather, this is an answer to a Q&A.

I understand this is an off-the-cuff response, but it still bothers me. My understanding of the Objectivist position on rights is that they follow from the nature of man; that they are negative rights in that they require no one to act in order for them to exist. They are not extended as a courtesy. Neither children, retarded people, nor full grown men are entitled to be protected. To assert they are begs the question, "Protected by whom?" Who would then be required to act in order to grant this right to protection? If we grant that all men have the right to be protected, then we open up all sorts of avenues into state control: the government must protect you, so we'll stop you from eating salt; the government must protect you, so we'll force you to go to the doctor; ad infinitum.

Bringing this back to the question, a child playing with a gun has no right, no claim on any other's actions, to ensure that child does not fire the gun and kill someone else. The child has no claim on any other's actions to protect him from his own irrationality. As his parent, it would probably be in my rational self-interest to make sure the child isn't in the position for this ever to occur. However, I'm not obligated to do so. Likewise, the government has no obligation to the child to protect him from his own irrationality, nor from the consequences of his irrationality. The government has an obligation to protect the rights of those whom the child would shoot.

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My first inclination is to say the state should certainly take his age into consideration. I think I've heard all the arguments for such a position: the child didn't have any understanding of what would happen; his rational mind is still developing; he can be reformed. It would be unfortunate to have prisons full of children, or to see one strapped to an electric chair. However, that doesn't ameliorate the fact that someone's right to live was violated. To whom does the state have an obligation? If the state's only job is to protect the rights of its citizens, then it must prosecute the child as it would prosecute anyone who has so violated another's rights.
I'm assuming we're talking about an extremely young child, who can just barely handle the gun. What one would reform? There's nothing to reform if the child is that young. You can reiterate that he must not play with guns; but, mostly, you have to secure the gun.

A child who is really not young enough to know that he could hurt someone is like a machine or like an animal, in regard to intent. He cannot have intent. He does not initiate force any more than the bullet does. No purpose would be served by prosecuting the bullet or the gun, and similarly none is served prosecuting such a young child.

Imagine a situation where an animal takes some action that results in some human's death. Imagine two possibilities: first, a tiger who has become a man-eater; second, a cow that did something where it showed no intent at any aggression (one would have to contrive some unlikely example here: say it has been let loose on a slightly hilly country road, stumbles against a parked car sending the wheel over the brick that was stopping it from rolling, and it rolls and kills someone or damages some property). In the first example, we might shoot the tiger, or might capture it and put it in a zoo, but we do so the way we would remove some dangerous natural formation that threatened to damage us. In other words we do not prosecute the tiger criminally, but we deal with it like we would deal with some other dangerous natural phenomenon. In the case of the cow, killing it or putting it in a zoo would be pointless;rather, we need to ensure that the owner keeps it penned or supervises it better. Depending on the details, we may prosecute the guy who let it loose, and (perhaps) the guy who parked his car without the brake and who did not use a tall-enough brick.

The child is in the situation of the cow. If he is really too young to have any comprehension, then he is incapable of intent. And as far as a practical response goes, reform is meaningless, so he is not even to be treated like our man-eating tiger.

I'm no expert in law, but in general criminal law is right when it takes cognizance of intent, e.g., when it distinguishes between murder and manslaughter. Take an example of a criminal act, and then remove malice and negligence from the example, and you begin to describe a situation that is more like an act initiated by an animal. Criminal law does not apply.

Similarly, in civil law, a contract with an extremely young child is like a contract with a cow. If the other party knows that he is dealing with a cow, or a minor, or a deranged person, he ought not to be fooling himself that he has entered into an agreement. (A situation where the other party is acting in good faith and could not reasonably have known that the other is incompetent to contract may require special rules, and I think that is how the law is actually framed.)

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Ayn Rand's seems to recognize two set of "rights".

  1. The rights we all know and that she calls "actual rights" or "full rights" which are necessary for the interaction between men (meaning, human beings with conceptual conciousness).
  2. A special "right", called "right to protection", which is extended as a courtesy to severely retarded individuals and small children. It is not a negative right. It is a positive right, as it were. It is necessary for the interaction between men and human beings without conceptual conciousness.

What seems to be a contradiction in her response (we know this was an off-the-cuff response, we're not blaming her) is that we cannot speak about courtesy and entitlement at the same time. If something is given as a courtesy to someone, it follows that the recipient is not entitled to it...

But I guess that the words "right", "entitled" and "courtesy" are used here in an entirely different context. I guess Ayn Rand meant that reality, rationality, and self-interest made this protection so natural, that the refusal to provide it (when we are not endagering a higher value) would be irrational and hence immoral.

So, in practice, it is as if these beings were "entitled" to protection.

Now, why would such a protection be the rational thing to do?

Because it is inscribed in our nature. We are contractual animals and it is in our nature to value potential traders. Ayn Rand says that the reason for this courtesy is that "as human, they can improve and become partially able to stand on their own". So inasmuchas it is rational to expect a progression towards rationality (meaning clinical improvement in case of disability, or growth and development in a child), the rational and moral thing is to protect them.

Now, why was Ayn Rand so willing to call for protection of children and severily retarded people, and not for embryos?

Why was she so clear in stating that embryos have no rights without saying: "Well.. embryos dont have full rights as adult have, but they are entitled to protection because, as human, they can develop into children, then adults, and stand on their own". Why?

In my opinion, because embryos are not included in the first level concept of men, as Grames has pointed out. And they are excluded from the concept of man because of their shape. Shape is immediately available.

The question remains, why should we base our understanding of rights on a first level concept of men?

How do you think we should answer this?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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This slips back into a faulty type of abstract thinking (unfortunately being encouraged by Grames) that is divorced from reality. What does it mean to take shape as essential and then say that things with that shape have rights? Why would one take shape as essential? The only reason you're doing this is that you are trying to find a way to encapsulate concrete instances into referents for your concept. However, you are doing this because you have already decided that instances of a certain type should have rights. Whether certain types of beings have rights depends on the characteristics of those beings, not on the choice of essential characteristic for use in the definition of the concept that refers to those beings.

You misunderstood me.

I am not saying that things with a human shape have rights.

I am trying to tell Grames that if we were to believe that babies have rights (as he thinks they do), it should be because they meet the concept of men thanks to other characteristic, different from conceptual conciousness, since babies do not have this characterist. And a good candidate would be shape. It would bring internal consistency to recognizing rights to both babies and severily retarded people.

But I don't believe this, so far.

Personally, my position is that babies have no rights, in the sense and meaning that adults have rights.

My position is that the rational (and hence moral) thing to do is to protect babies because we value babies, not because they hold rights.

This protection should be excercised by the people who value them the most. Normally, their parents. But in their abscense, any group of individuals interested in them, either through private charity or through the State. All of this should be clearly described in objective Law.

If the State does this, then we would be expanding the notion of the proper duties of the State, to include protection to entities that because of their nature cannot be property, and nevertheless are highly (or universally) valued.

The legendary story of King Solomon is a good example of what the State would do. The State would give the baby to the party that proves to love (value) it most. This doesn't mean necessarily being adopted in a home, but going to a nursery funded by the interested party.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Now, I have not explained why the State would punish those relatives/parents who kill or threat a baby/severily retarded human being.

The State will consider it crime because they are destroying or jeopardizing, not a subject of rights, but an UHVE (acronym for "unownable high-valued entity"), without having given any other potential valuer the chance to take care of it. In this case, the UHVE has a proper name: a human being.

Whether mountain gorillans in the verge of extinction, and non-living things as seawater and air are UHVEs or not is another theme of debate.

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A child who is really not young enough to know that he could hurt someone is like a machine or like an animal, in regard to intent. He cannot have intent. He does not initiate force any more than the bullet does. No purpose would be served by prosecuting the bullet or the gun, and similarly none is served prosecuting such a young child....

Only one thing bothers me about this - your family member is dead, there's a child with access to a gun, the capability to use it, and it's possible someone else might be killed. How does the state protect the rights of those possible others?

However, I think that's a good argument, though it moves the focus from rights to intent. Certainly consideration of intent should then be extended to all defendents, correct? The prosecutor of a grown man should be required to prove intent? If a retarded/insane man is accused of a crime, the prosecutor must also prove intent, correct? If so, then no special protections are afforded the child/retarded/insane and therefore no extra rights. The child/retarded/insane can be considered full rights bearing individuals.

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Only one thing bothers me about this - your family member is dead, there's a child with access to a gun, the capability to use it, and it's possible someone else might be killed. How does the state protect the rights of those possible others?

Maybe it will help to remember that the State can only protect the rights between rational parties, because the existence of rights imply the existence of at least two free, self-concious men. Rights are what defends A from B and B from A, if and when both A and B are rational beings. This is not a cliche or dogma. It is derived from reality. Since A is free and concious about his own choices, projects, values, and properties, and A recognizes that B is also a free man concious about his own choices, projects, values and properties, a line is naturally drawn between the actions of A and the actions of B, so that both A and B can keep existing as free men.

You cannot tell a small child: "Hey, tiny rascal, I have the right to my life, don't shoot me!" in the same way you could not say this to a bear running after you in the forest.

It is your responsibility to keep away from children with guns or from angry bears, or keep children away from guns and bears away from you. There are no rights to protect nor criminals to prosecute.

The State is not responsible for protecting your life: only your right to live.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Maybe it will help to remember that the State can only protect the rights between rational parties, because the existence of rights imply the existence of at least two free, self-concious men. Rights are what defends A from B and B from A, if and when both A and B are rational beings.

I understand what you're trying to say, but I think terms need to be more clearly defined. I don't think it's true that the state can only protect the rights between rational parties. If that were true, then the state would have no position if one of the party members were irrational. The initiation of force is irrational. Therefore, if the state can only protect the rights between rational parties, the state would have no position in all cases of initiation of force because at least one of the parties is irrational.

If you clarify your statement by arguing the state can only protect rights between parties capable of rational thought then there's only one problem left to solve - which I think is your original problem: What if a rational person kills a child/insane person/retarded person/irrational person? According to your argument above, none could be convicted of violating a child's right to live since a child is not capable of rational thought, and therefore has no rights to violate.

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I understand what you're trying to say, but I think terms need to be more clearly defined. I don't think it's true that the state can only protect the rights between rational parties. If that were true, then the state would have no position if one of the party members were irrational. The initiation of force is irrational. Therefore, if the state can only protect the rights between rational parties, the state would have no position in all cases of initiation of force because at least one of the parties is irrational.

By rational people we mean people with a rational faculty, even if they CHOOSE not to use it at a given time.

A criminal is not an irrational being. It is a rational being who chose not to be rational when he planned and executed his crime.

Another way, then, to put it, is that a theory of rights presupposes the existence of free beings. Freedom and rational capabilities need each other.

A horse is not truly free, as the horse cannot choose. To be able to choose the being has to identify itself as a being, the reality of the "self". "I am what I am" and then "I choose. I am the one making the choice".

By the same token, a man cannot excercise its rationality but only when he is free.

That's why we say that ethics ends when a gun begins, meaning, when you cannot really choose, you cannot excercise your mind rationally, so your actions are deprived of moral content.

If you clarify your statement by arguing the state can only protect rights between parties capable of rational thought then there's only one problem left to solve - which I think is your original problem: What if a rational person kills a child/insane person/retarded person/irrational person? According to your argument above, none could be convicted of violating a child's right to live since a child is not capable of rational thought, and therefore has no rights to violate.

This topic has been approached in different threads in this forum. I think I started the last one in "Broken units, broken men".

Basically, children/retarded persons do not have rights in the same sense that adults have. They have, though, a special "right" ,the right to be protected. This "right" (please see that I use the word between quote marks) is extended as a courtesy. It is not the result of their current rational capabilities but the result of their human condition and the potential for growth/improvement. It is not whimsical, or based on "intrinsec values", but resulting from the relational values.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Basically, children/retarded persons do not have rights in the same sense that adults have. They have, though, a special "right" ,the right to be protected.

Protected by whom?

This "right" (please see that I use the word between quote marks) is extended as a courtesy. It is not the result of their current rational capabilities but the result of their human condition and the potential for growth/improvement. It is not whimsical, or based on "intrinsec values", but resulting from the relational values.

Rights are not extended as a courtesy.

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Children are protected by the government, as are we all; but, they're supported by their parents (who brought them into the world) or by their adoptive guardians (who took on the responsibility).

To be clear, our rights are protected by the government (properly formed). If children (or the insane/retarded) have no rights due to their inability to reason, then there is nothing for the government to protect.

I'm not clear on several issues here:

1) Either children/the insane/the retarded are Men or not.

2) If they are, then they are entitled to all natural rights of Men, and no others.

3) If they are not, then they are not entitled to those rights.

4) If they are not Men, then what are they?

Perhaps answering the last is the proper place to start in order to answer them all? As Ms. Rand began by examining the nature of Man in order to form the Objectivist view of rights, we need to examine the nature of children/the insane/the retarded.

The overwhelming difference between Men and these others (for brevity, please), and the lynchpin of Objectivist philosophy on rights, is that Man must live by his reason. These others, by definition, can not reason, and therefore can not live by their reason. They can only live by being "protected" by guardians. Some Man must choose to assume the burden of protecting them and serve as a rational mind.

So, what role does the state have in this? If rights derive from Man's need to live rationally, and we have an entity that can not live rationally, then what rights pertain to that entity? If no rights pertain to that entity, then what would government be protecting?

Furthermore, and I think you would agree (based on your response above), children do not have a "special 'right'" as Hotu Matua asserted.

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It does not matter. If you disagree please explain how it ever possibly could matter, preferably by using an example.

It does matter, I obviously disagree that at birth a baby without the function to read, write, learn, and eat is probably unreliable and only permissible to the parent and guardian. I'm considering that this baby had non-of the functions available as mentioned. Therefor I would rule on it being the parents opinion or reason to keep that sort of (baby) alive. Why should there be state rights guarding something with no voice? Otherwise, I hardly regard any rights to any species that hasn't the ability to function in our nature of reality. Or unless we're preserving humanity for a cause that a prophecy cleansing will purge the earth.

I think another issue is we're noticing are a growing percentage of children diagnosed with autism and other disabilities that have shown some exceptional talented traits. The difficulty is why force a rule that is most importantly parental or the nature of survival. A faucet can still function with a leak. But we can't force someone to repair it if they do have the knowledge or not. Why create a rule that will enforce responsibility? Adoption was never an unnatural procedure that developed through technical advancement.

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To be clear, our rights are protected by the government (properly formed). If children (or the insane/retarded) have no rights due to their inability to reason, then there is nothing for the government to protect.
If some being has no rights, then it is true that the government has nothing to protect. So, the question is whether children have rights, and if so what they are.

Furthermore, and I think you would agree (based on your response above), children do not have a "special 'right'" as Hotu Matua asserted.
I'm not sure I would agree. I don't know of a principle that says that all beings who have rights must have exactly the same rights. For instance, if we meet some space-alien, its nature may be such that it may be given certain rights, but not others. Rights do not flow from rationality alone. It is impossible to start from "this being is rational" and end up with "this being has rights" or "this being ought to have rights". One needs also to assume a basic context: i.e. the broader question one is trying to answer, which is "how can this being live among these other beings?".

I'm not clear on several issues here:

1) Either children/the insane/the retarded are Men or not.

2) If they are, then they are entitled to all natural rights of Men, and no others.

3) If they are not, then they are not entitled to those rights.

4) If they are not Men, then what are they?

This approach does not work are a means of discovery. It can only be a (somewhat post-hoc) way of conceptualizing what one is discovering (or has discovered). Take #4. Suppose we say that we are going to form the concept "man" in a way that excludes children. It does not follow that children do not have rights. The same for retards: whether we think of them as "retarded men" or as "retards" is not the primary way we figure out if they have rights. Including or excluding them does not change their nature. Suppose we end up with three distinct and non-overlapping concepts, which we call: "adult", "child" and "retard". This proves nothing about their nature. We would still have to examine their nature and decide if the principle "man has rights" has to be expanded to "adults, children and retards have rights". (We might also ask ourselves whether it serves us -- for some purpose -- for these three concepts to be specific instances of some more abstract concept, say "humans"; but, that does not bear solely on the question of rights.) If our discovery shows that they cannot have identical rights, we might ask ourselves whether we need to break the concept "rights" down further, or to create an expanded concept.

I hope to post more on the conceptualization aspect. However, I think that the earlier part of this post -- i.e. that we cannot induce rights from rationality alone -- is a key to your underlying question.

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Your statemet made me think that the perceived, non-verbal smiliarties and differences that tell anyone, even a child, who is a human being and who/what is not, is shape, just like tables, dogs and cats.

Humans have a distinct shape and this makes human existents immediately distiguishable from dogs, even before we can have a clue about their ability for abstract or volitional thinking.

Having "human shape" as the essential feature, and not rational thinking, would suddenly bring all pieces together and solve the puzzle.

Observations are integrated over time, so the actions various entities perform are also the referent of the concept. Shape alone is inadequate.

Yes, rights would work better than values (or motivation) to justify protection, as long as we take human shape, and not rationality, as the essential characteristic of the first level concept of men.

Because if we take rationality, then babies (at least up to one year of age or so) do not have rights. They have no more conceptual conciousness than a chimpanzee. They are potentially rational, but we do not recognize rights in potentialities. Thus, if babies have no rights, we could not enforce their protection.

It was established in the older thread Minors: Rights and Children that children do have the rational faculty from birth, and not in the form of a mere potential. They do not have all of the rational powers of an adult but the faculty is there. Thus, babies have rights even on the basis of the adult definition of man as the rational animal. The problematic cases of 'broken men' do not properly include normal healthy babies.

Legally, 'protection' of an infant is not a positive right to food, shelter, etc received from the government. It is the same right to life in the form the law enforces for everyone: retribution for harm done.

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Protected by whom?

Rights are not extended as a courtesy.

Hi Jeff

You're right: Rights are not extended as a courtesy, and rights are always negative, meaning, the right for not being interfered, not the right for being helped.

But the context in which Ayn Rand refers to this "right" (note the quotation marks) is different.

I as have indicated, she answered off-the-cuff with a contradiction: people cannot be entitled to protection, and then consider this protection a "courtesy" extended to them. When you're entitled to 50 bucks, you must be paid your 50 bucks, and these 50 bucks will not, therefore, be extended to you as a "courtesy".

Surely the theory of rights must be examined within the broad context of Ayn Rand philosophy, and not just within the off-the-cuff answer to a question targeting a context different from the context in which Ayn Rand wrote about rights.

Answering your question, Jeff, about who should protect these people, I would answer that those who demostrate to value them the most.

To me, my answer is compatible with Objectivism beccuse

  1. It stresses values as relational. Severily mentally disabled people do not have intrinsec value. They display certain features that are valued by somebody. The valueing process is objective.
  2. It stresses the fact that human beings, by their nature, are not property and cannot be property of any other human being. (People uncapable of rational thinking can be adopted, but not owned. So, there are limits of what the guardian can do with these people, limits that would not exist if they were his property. To me, one of the limits is that a guardian cannot destroy (or take any action leading to destruction) of the existent under his care just becasue he doesn't value it any more, until other potential valuers are given resonable opportunity to become guardians)

What is novel about my approach, I guess, is that it indicates that no one can interfere between a valued object and the people who value it, when there is no ownership involved (i.e. when the right of no owner can be violated). All valuers have a right to pursue what their value. Therefore, to secure this right, the State should "rescue" the existent in danger, placind them in a position where it can be protected by those valuers.

This would be a rational justification for the State to use force to enter a home, pull out the disabled person (or baby) in danger, and put it in a place where other people can, under objective law, demostrate they value them and become guardians.

The State would be doing this not to protect the rights of babies or severily mentally disabled people (as they have no rights), but to protect the rights of the valuers out there who want to adopt them.

.

This approach demands the demostration that 1) there are in fact existents that due to their nature cannot become property, and 2) these existents are valued

I am working in demostrating the truth of these assumptions.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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I'm not sure I would agree [that children don't have special rights]. I don't know of a principle that says that all beings who have rights must have exactly the same rights. For instance, if we meet some space-alien, its nature may be such that it may be given certain rights, but not others. Rights do not flow from rationality alone. It is impossible to start from "this being is rational" and end up with "this being has rights" or "this being ought to have rights". One needs also to assume a basic context: i.e. the broader question one is trying to answer, which is "how can this being live among these other beings?".

Well, if children are Men, then they must have the same rights as all other men:

"Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another." - Ayn Rand, “Textbook of Americanism,” The Ayn Rand Column, 84 (from the ARL)

"There are no 'rights' of special groups, there are no 'rights of farmers, or workers, of businessmen, of employees, of the old, of the young, of the unborn.' There are only the Rights of Man - rights possessed by every individual man and by all men as individuals." Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights", VOS, p. 114-15

If every man did not have the same exact rights as every other man, then conflicts would arise.

However, I spent the better part of yesterday reading through the 26 pages of Minors: Rights and Children and am convinced that if children do have rights, they also have a right to support from their parents. This "special right" is not really special at all - it's merely an extension of their right to life and the fact that their parents voluntarily chose to bring them into existence knowing full well that existence would begin with a period where the child could not fend for itself. This constitutes a sort of contract between parent and child whereby the parent has agreed to provide the child with support; the parent has agreed to be guardian of that child's rights until such time as that child is capable of exercising his rights independently.

This doesn't confer an extra right to the child. It affirms his right to life, if indeed he does have a right to life.

This reasoning applies for someone who is retarded from birth, or insane from birth. The parents, or whomever has voluntarily agreed to be the person's caretaker, would simply be the person's caretaker from cradle to grave (or pass on the responsibility to whomever agrees to the burden). The retarded or insane person still has all rights as any other Man, those rights are simply exercised by a caretaker.

However, it doesn't work for someone who becomes retarded or insane through no fault of anyone else. Assuming this condition is permanent (and barring intervention I don't see how it would not be), the newly retarded or insane person has no claim on the actions of anyone else unless he has previously contracted with another to become the guardian of his rights.

This approach does not work are a means of discovery. It can only be a (somewhat post-hoc) way of conceptualizing what one is discovering (or has discovered). Take #4. Suppose we say that we are going to form the concept "man" in a way that excludes children. It does not follow that children do not have rights. The same for retards: whether we think of them as "retarded men" or as "retards" is not the primary way we figure out if they have rights. Including or excluding them does not change their nature. Suppose we end up with three distinct and non-overlapping concepts, which we call: "adult", "child" and "retard". This proves nothing about their nature. We would still have to examine their nature and decide if the principle "man has rights" has to be expanded to "adults, children and retards have rights". (We might also ask ourselves whether it serves us -- for some purpose -- for these three concepts to be specific instances of some more abstract concept, say "humans"; but, that does not bear solely on the question of rights.) If our discovery shows that they cannot have identical rights, we might ask ourselves whether we need to break the concept "rights" down further, or to create an expanded concept.

I hope to post more on the conceptualization aspect. However, I think that the earlier part of this post -- i.e. that we cannot induce rights from rationality alone -- is a key to your underlying question.

That makes sense, but that's what I was trying to do. It wasn't as clear nor as comprehensive as Ms. Rand's explanation, but I tried to begin from the nature of these individuals. What are they? As you pointed out earlier, they are like animals. Children have a rational faculty, but they don't use it. The retarded and the insane, by definition, have no rational faculty (or, at least a rational faculty so damaged as to make it's existence irrelevant). For all intents and purposes, they are simply animals. Yet we don't recognize rights in animals.

Ms. Rand writes:

"The source of rights is man's nature.... the issue of man's origin does not alter the fact that he is an entity of a specific kind - a rational being - that cannot function successfully under coercion, and that rights are a necessary condition of his particular mode of survival.... Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival." - VOS, "Mans Rights," various pages

Am I wrong in concluding from this that it is man's nature as a being of volitional, rational abilty that gives rise to his rights? If I am correct in concluding that, then what in the nature of children, the retarded, and the insane gives rise to their rights since they are not beings of volitional, rational ability?

EDIT: Actually, I'll remove children from those who I asserted were "not beings of volitional, rational ability." I understand now that they are. My question still stands for the retarded and the insane.

Edited by JeffS
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Answering your question, Jeff, about who should protect these people, I would answer that those who demostrate to value them the most.

What is novel about my approach, I guess, is that it indicates that no one can interfere between a valued object and the people who value it, when there is no ownership involved (i.e. when the right of no owner can be violated). All valuers have a right to pursue what their value. Therefore, to secure this right, the State should "rescue" the existent in danger, placind them in a position where it can be protected by those valuers.

If the state is going to rescue these people, that presumes the state values them. Can the state value anything?

The State would be doing this not to protect the rights of babies or severily mentally disabled people (as they have no rights), but to protect the rights of the valuers out there who want to adopt them.

Which presumes there are "valuers out there who want to adopt them." I don't think you can justify the state using force based upon the presumption that there will be someone to come along, eventually, and grant the government sanction for protecting their rights. Either someone is having their rights abridged, and the government needs to step in to protect those rights; or no one is having their rights abridged, and the government needs to do nothing.

No, I think the answer lies in determining whether severely retarded or insane people have rights. I'm convinced babies have rights from birth.

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Am I wrong in concluding from this that it is man's nature as a being of volitional, rational abilty that gives rise to his rights? If I am correct in concluding that, then what in the nature of children, the retarded, and the insane gives rise to their rights since they are not beings of volitional, rational ability?

EDIT: Actually, I'll remove children from those who I asserted were "not beings of volitional, rational ability." I understand now that they are. My question still stands for the retarded and the insane.

You are correct, Jeff. Rights arise from the nature of men as beings with volitional conciousness.

As long as you believe that human beings with no volitional conciousness also have rigths, though, you will remain confused.

As long as you believe that there is a sort of "contract" between parents and their children, you will remain confused.

No contract is possible between an existent and a non-existent. Parents cannot come to an agreement with a son who does not exist yet.

No contract is possible between a being with volitional conciousness and a being without it. Parents cannot come to an agreement with a small baby.

And as you cleverly have pointed out, there is no contract in place when an adult happens to become severily mentally impaired.

So the explanation you seek does not go through the "breach in contract" path.

When parents decide to create a baby, who are they agreeing with? Are they swearing an oath to the gods? to society?

Imagine I make a robot at home. I know I must keep it in good operating conditions if I want him to go on functioning as a robot. But suppose I get bored and I want to destroy it. Do I have the right to destroy it? Yes! Why? Beacuse it is mine. It is my property. I do not owe any explanation to anyone, including the State.

What is different then when we take the case to the severily mentally disabled human being, or the baby?

The difference I see is that human beings are not property, and nevertheless they are valued by someone out there, or we have good reasons to think they will be valued by someone.

When you ask "What is in the nature of children, the retarded, the insane, that gives rise to their rights...?" you should be asking "What is in the nature of them, and in the nature of the rational men, that makes them be valued?"

I could summarize my proposal like this: Stop focusing on the rights of the disabled, and focus on the rights of the valuers.

If I want to take custody of Johnny, the insane,no one who value Johnny less than me can prevent me from becoming his caretaker.

It is appropriate, then, for the State to secure MY RIGHTS by preventing Johnny's relatives to kill him or torture him, giving me a chance to prove I value Johnny more than anyone else, and then becoming his protector.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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If the state is going to rescue these people, that presumes the state values them. Can the state value anything?

No, that's not my point.

The State is not intervening because the State values Johnny.

It is because it is protecting the right of Hotu Matua, who values Johnny.

Hotu Matua has the right to pursuit what he values. He has to be allowed to prove, under objective evidence, that he values Johnny more than anyone else, and then can become Johnny's caretaker or protector.

I don't think you can justify the state using force based upon the presumption that there will be someone to come along, eventually, and grant the government sanction for protecting their rights.

Yes, I can. If the presumption is high enough, I can justify it.

The State commonly acts on the base of presumptions.

For example, the police normally take people to the court, using force, because the judge thinks there is enough evidence to make a presumption. Later on, in court, the accused may demostrate to be innocent.

So, it all depends of the rationality of the presumption.

I think there is enough evidence of the interest of many, many people to rescue human beings from destruction.

This evidence is so abundant, that I think I have no need to demostrate it.

The very fact that we are spending so much time writing about insane and retarded and babies shows that we are concerned about their fate.

Thousands of couples are looking for adoption.

Millions of dollars are donated to institutions that take care of severily disabled people.

Certainly, by becoming the caretaker I don't mean that I will be changing diapers myself. I may hire someone who does it for me. In any case, I am proving to be able to give some values (money, time) in exchange for the life and wellbeing of Johnny.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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