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SFreeman89Vision
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Hi,

I'm doing a class presentation at university on rights, which I will be making from an objectivist standpoint, and I have some points I would much appreciate some help with.

I have been told specifically to say what I think about the subject, not just give a literature review. It is for a class on applied political theory (with a heavy ethical/philosophical emphasis), my topic is 'theories of rights', and the suggested points to explore are:

What are rights?

What rights do we have?

What should happen if rights are violated?

Are there such things as group rights? What are human rights?

How should we decide who has rights over a natural resource?

I've written most of it, in the form of the Powerpoint presentation here.*

The weakpoints in my argument as it stands, that I can see, are as follows:

1)

Why must consistency or inconsistency be preferable, why can't they be equally valuable/valueless?

2)

Why must man survive by his own efforts? Why not each survive by a mixture of his own efforts and those of others, or exclusively on the efforts of others? Is it better for a man to starve than live on the effort of others?

That is, if man's value is his own life, surely his life can be improved and thus his value obtained by stealing from others? What restricts 'his life' to 'his life which doesn't involve violence' without resorting to a circular argument?

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I'd be grateful for your thoughts on these issues and suggestions for their resolution, as well as any other problems you can see and comments on my presentation in general.

Thank you

*I know it is very text heavy, right now it is just for me to work from. When I have got the content finished I will distill it down to bullet point summaries for actual use in the presentation. There are also some formatting issues that I will correct.

Edited by SFreeman89Vision
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When is this report due anyway? How much longer do you have? You don't need this done for a class at 9AM tomorrow or something like that so you'd need this done in a serious hurry, right? I'm asking in hopes answers you get here won't be found too late even if you just see them in the morning.

Of the questions you were suggested to answer, the last one has an unstated assumed premise that I find objection to, namely that somebody specific has to act as the decider of rights on anything at all. We don't decide who has rights to things, we just recognize the existing facts in that regard. Natural resources are not an exception to this. (Nobody is born with rights to any particular stuff, natural resources included, because any legitimate rights to stuff are just a form of following through on rights to act freely where the stuff comes simply as a consequences of certain actions. Somebody does something to the resources to make them somehow more useful for the first time when they had been sitting around unused and therefore providing no value and that action in regard to the previously unused stuff, which now makes it serve some kind of purpose and of some value, is why it belongs to that person. Trying to take it against their will after they did something to make it useful is like stealing anything else from them, no different from if you stole a bike they built.)

"The weakpoints in my argument as it stands, that I can see, are as follows:

1)Why must consistency or inconsistency be preferable, why can't they be equally valuable/valueless?"

Consistency is preferable if any person intends to live. Consistency is about not being contradictory. Contradictions are in violation of the law of identity, that a thing is itself. If one throws the law of identity out the window as something one need not really have to pay attention to, any further attempt at communication or understanding just becomes incoherent. You cannot possibly try to deny the validity of the law of identity and say throwing it out is justified because any attempt to disprove it depends on making use of it as true, hence the incoherence of trying to seriously deny it. It is important for anybody aiming to live to recognize this because our successful survival depends on being able to understand and deal with the world.

By the way, I'm glad you recognize this was a weak point in your presentation. I looked at the transcript (because it wouldn't play the slides for some reason) and agree that part looks weak what you've got so far and could use strengthening because your case starts with and rests upon this point. You may find it easier to start with the axioms then put them after the question of consistency because consistency is a question that depends on the axioms first. Then get to the thing about the senses being used in everything, information from them having to used even in attempts to refute their validity, and that we really have no cause to doubt them anyway either, no evidence of confusions we can't recognize the source of and understand and no reason to consider baseless conjecture about "what if?"s where the questioner tries to dodge the burden of proof.

"2)Why must man survive by his own efforts? Why not each survive by a mixture of his own efforts and those of others, or exclusively on the efforts of others? Is it better for a man to starve than live on the effort of others?

That is, if man's value is his own life, surely his life can be improved and thus his value obtained by stealing from others? What restricts 'his life' to 'his life which doesn't involve violence' without resorting to a circular argument?"

See above about why consistency, not being contradictory, matters. We not only have to survive, we have to survive as something particular. We can't exist without an identity, a specific nature, anymore than anything else can, so we can't just survive by any old random means either. Survival by our own effort is consistent with our nature as individual living creatures whose characteristic primary means of making it in the world is reason. We have to survive by our own independent, volitional thinking and trying to figure out and assess the world. Nobody else can literally take over our mind and do it all for us just like we would ourselves and make sure things go as best as possible for us. We do our own thinking and make our own decisions about how to act based on that thinking and so as long as nobody is initiating force on us, that makes us responsible for it. It would be a contradiction for us to try to get by and get ahead through using force to leech off the minds of others in the face of the nature of people.

Now, with that said, independence is about thinking and acting for yourself, not (as some people mistakenly believe) never getting anything from other people. It is not against independence to agree to trade some products or services of your own with ones somebody else made for mutual benefit for example. As for the question of starving versus living on the effort of others, it depends on what is meant by living on the effort of others and some context about how somebody got themselves in that situation. If they're just sick through no fault of their own and unable to work for a while, it isn't being a leech to have some friends volunteer to help you stay afloat until you are better. You do provide value to them to make this a worth while expenditure for them even if the value you give is not in the form of solid objects or standard services. If it is some kind of case like you have been a bum all your life and you have nobody and nothing to blame but yourself for this and have now realized how wrong you went, you may be able to work out something similar to a loan with somebody, that you sign a contract with them promising certain expenses and things you'll return to them if they will go ahead and invest in you now to help you get on your feet. That latter example though rightfully may be difficult to find somebody willing to make the deal with you if you really do have a solid track record of being a louse since that does sound like they don't have much cause to believe you really have turned a new leaf and will stick to it and keep your promises. How somebody could get into a situation though where there is just no way, no how they could be of any use for anything at all without being brain dead though pretty much (at which point you can't contemplate any kind of philosophical questions like this anyway) and thus could only survive as a leech, I am not sure off the top of my head.

If you have a copy of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand or can get your hands on a copy before your presentation is due I recall these sorts of issues being discussed more and well. There are probably some writings or audio on this question somewhere among the free stuff on the Ayn Rand Institute website, but I don't recall any specific ones off the top of my head. You could dig through the forum using search for terms like "prudent predator", a common term used to describe people who initiate force to try to get ahead without getting caught by the government, in relation to one of the sections you knew was a bit weak in the presentation, but I will say going through the threads and using search can get a little messy, so the book and stuff on the ARI site would probably be preferable to look into first if you can.

That's the reply to your main issues, the stuff below is just thoughts reading the rest of the text in your outline thing, so it isn't as important, since your main issues were the earlier two things.

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

"his life which doesn't involve violence" -- it isn't about a lack of violence per say, the key point is not initiating force/fraud against other people pretty much. Self-defense against somebody else initiating force is not at all a problem though it may involve violence. You talk about self defense later, so of course you know self-defense is fine and this is just a matter here of being careful about how you phrase some things to keep it clear. Fraud is one thing you seem to have neglected a bit mentioning was generally not ok, not just violent forms of force, since both deception and initiating violent force intentionally prevent people from acting on their own best assessments of the facts of things.

"Man is responsible for his own actions, and never for those of others " Actually, technically, one can be largely responsible for the acts of others *if* they inserted force (which by the way I mean to count fraud in, just to be clear) into the scenario on the other person. Your force on them can skew the situation in ways that make the least detrimental or only option for them something which that person would not have assessed to be their option of choice otherwise. But otherwise, normally, what one person freely chooses is indeed their responsibility. So, you might be better off phrasing it something like, "When left to act uncoerced . . ." or "As long as they are left to act without being coerced" at the start of the sentence.

"A value implies a choice; between food and hunger, love and no love, good music and bad music, life and death. Values imply a standard with which one gauges these values. This standard is life. " If life is the standard you judge the value of things against (correct), for the sake of keeping things simple and not confusing your audience, you may not want to mention "life and death" in your list right before that point. Now, as for why life is the standard and you don't get more lives or an "afterlife", that may be hard to fit in in your time frame.

"Instead of living his own life, he attempts to live yours." This line looks a bit off, not quite correct. It is more like he is trying to live in contradiction to his nature (a recipe for misery and death if ever their was one) and make somebody else a servant toward this abomination of an existence of his for now too. Altruists are more the type that try to make themselves just a tool to the lives of others, predators like this try to make others just tools to their own lives.

"For a man to enact a right in law he must first have held that right in his own mind; therefore moral concepts of rights must exist as we can observe their consequences in reality. " This line confuses me with what you are trying to say. I expect you probably mean to point out that rights exist prior to any laws about them, that when done properly, the laws are created in response to recognitions about the facts of rights that exist rather than somehow the law creating rights that didn't exist before, as some people believe, or something similar to that. However, that sentence I quoted looks like it is saying "Rights must exist because people made up laws based upon them, after all, we couldn't make laws based on stuff that didn't exist." That would be obviously false, as somebody could make a law saying that you had to feed the unicorns or be sent to jail and that doesn't mean unicorn must exist because we have laws about them. So, you might want to reword that part to make it clearer.

"A person who claimed that man has no right to his own life would be, by his own morality, committing a kind of theft by using his own life, to which he has no right, to make that very argument." This line is kind of weak as far as saying they couldn't even make an argument in favor of their position without that act being hypocritical. Somebody could easily argue they're doing it "for the cause" and not "for themselves" or something like that to try to get around that issue. There are lots of other things that could be argued if one doesn't have the right to their own life supposedly, like possibly, depending on who or what they claim does have a right to their life, you may be able to tell them if they believe that seriously, then they would not object to giving you all their money and food and other valuables they've been using to live, right? A morality of people having no right to their own lives is a fast track to extinction for humanity basically.

"And therefore... Capitalism, since it is the only system that protects man’s rights" Be careful about how you present this part as many people don't quite get anymore what you would mean by capitalism and think capitalism would allow violation of rights to make a buck, even encourage it, if they haven't by this point in the presentation realized that violating rights is not cruise control to making more value in life yet.

Your section on the various proposed types of rights looks pretty good, though saying property rights are the only consistent ones is a little misleadingly worded, since we also have rights to things like the freedom of speech and freedom of association which can be used in conjunction with property rights, but are not themselves a form of property right. (When on somebody else's property though, they don't have to let you stay and exercise your speech if they don't want of course, just they can't do something like deny you speech anywhere no matter what, even when not on or using their property.) A system which recognizes and respects property rights is the only possibly consistent one as opposed to all the varieties that don't respect property rights, but property rights are not the only consistent rights.

"The man who uses his reason and effort to access the oil is its proper owner. " You may very well get questions in relation to the fact that lots of people are involved in getting the oil out of the ground and what about the fact that the one who located the oil is not the same as who is actually digging it up. You may well leave this line I quoted as it is written now, it is correct, just maybe prepare ahead of time for questions like this.

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1) Why must consistency or inconsistency be preferable, why can't they be equally valuable/valueless?

I'm unsure why you get into this first. Yes, consistency and consistency can be equally valuable/valueless, but the importance of consistency has to do with the law of identity first and foremost. You don't HAVE to care about consistency one bit. Still, it is self-evident that existence exists because you are conscious of something, which implies that things exist AS something in particular. The only way to understanding anything about reality is to acknowledge A cannot simultaneously be non-A. I think mentioning consistency first will confuse things, and maybe even confuse yourself.

Just to mention, you say knowledge implies three axioms. While yes, to have any bit of knowledge implies those axioms, it comes across as you suggesting a primacy of consciousness almost, as though knowledge rather than reality is your starting point. I don't think you intended that, and has been stated already, you may find it easier (and perhaps simpler) to just start off with axioms right off the bat. After all, they're self-evident and require no proof anyway.

2) Why must man survive by his own efforts? Why not each survive by a mixture of his own efforts and those of others, or exclusively on the efforts of others? Is it better for a man to starve than live on the effort of others?

That is, if man's value is his own life, surely his life can be improved and thus his value obtained by stealing from others? What restricts 'his life' to 'his life which doesn't involve violence' without resorting to a circular argument?

You are being a little vague on "effort" here. Effort simply needs to mean use of one's mind to think. The only way to do anything, in fact, is to think. A mixture of effort is certainly acceptable and is really the whole basis of trade anyway. Any person needs to identify what sort of things they need and why anything is needed in the first place. On top of that, the efforts of others are certainly needed in order to lead the most productive life possible; imagine trying to do everything alone, such as growing your own food, building your house, etc. EXCLUSIVE reliance on the efforts of others is impossible, given that's giving up the whole method of survival anyway. How would you manage to become a parasite without at least figuring out how to be one? Not even that is automatic.

The whole thing about initiated violence being bad is that it is an attempt to somehow force a person to think on your terms, which as I explained in the previous paragraph, is an impossible thing to do without mystical powers of telepathy. Also, you DO need other people to maximize your your life through productivity, so trying to force others to bow to your will is detrimental to yourself in the long-run. Theft at best provides temporary value, but ultimately you lose out. In case that didn't completely drive home how that applies to rights in general, what I'm saying is that rights are basically acknowledgments of facts of human survival in a social context, meaning violating rights is always at some level detrimental to yourself and to the social context that maximizes your life.

Edited by Eiuol
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Thank you for your replies. Here is an updated presentation.

Bluecherry,

I won't be making the presentation until January so I've got ages yet. I just want to get it out of the way now so it won't be interfering with exam preparation, essay writing etc later on.

I agree about the recognition of rights versus 'deciding' who has rights.

I think your idea of putting the axioms first and then addressing consistency afterwards is a good idea. So I now start by saying that the following are self evident: existence, consciousness, and identity. I may be wrong, but I assume that some philosophers would disagree with these axioms. What might they say against them and how can they be refuted? I mean to say, how can one effectively illuminate their self-evidence?

I'm unsure about my 7th slide. I say that we can observe people chasing things, so we know there are values. These imply a choice, which implies a standard for gauging values against one another. I then say that this standard is life. I think that is quite a jump, however. How could I effectively justify this leap? Why is life man's ultimate value?

I've addressed the problem with my use of the word 'violence' by instead defining the term 'coercion' and using that from there on in instead.

I'm also not happy with slide 9. After I define coercion I say that a man using coercion is unreasoning because he is trying to make someone think on his own terms which is impossible. I then say that he is tying to make someone act contrary to their own reason, the implication being that this is a bad thing. But I'm not sure how to make it explicit and to say what I am trying to say more strongly...

I have deleted the slide where I addressed the idea that 'moral concepts of rights do not exist' as it was somewhat redundant and confusing.

I have also deleted the line about man being responsible for his own actions. It may well not come up (usually it would come up in for example discussions of poverty where people say "WE'RE responsible for poverty in Africa because WE caused it by... [colonialism, corporatism, whatever]") and I don't think I have the time to justify it or fully explain what I mean.

I have made various other changes such as specifying 'free market capitalism', cleaning up my slides on types of rights etc.

Eiuol,

When I say effort I mean that a man lives by his own effort if he makes something himself, if he trades something (ultimately it is his effort that got him what he traded for), or if he is given something freely (his effort of being virtuous has brought him whatever it is he was given). I mean to exclude theft etc.

You say that theft is detrimental to those who do it. How is this the case? Suppose I defraud a a company, one I will never have dealings with in the future. I come away with a large sum of money that I can spend as I please and which makes me very happy. My crime was perfect and I will never be found out. How has stealing harmed me to a greater extent than the benefit it has brought?

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I think your idea of putting the axioms first and then addressing consistency afterwards is a good idea. So I now start by saying that the following are self evident: existence, consciousness, and identity. I may be wrong, but I assume that some philosophers would disagree with these axioms. What might they say against them and how can they be refuted? I mean to say, how can one effectively illuminate their self-evidence?

Though you didn't ask me, one way to address what people might say in response is that an attempt to deny those axioms requires the use of that very axiom. You mention that, but an example of some kind would help. For instance, to prove existence exists would require using nonexistence to demonstrate that existence is real. Or to deny consciousness is to use consciousness. Or an attempt to deny identity is to use the identity of facts of reality. There is no proof involved, although any of the axioms can be validated easily by acting or thinking. Even the act of looking at your presentation would validate all that, since your presentation exists as something with a certain identity that is seen by some consciousness.

More certainly can be said, but since this is a discussion of rights, you don't want to side-track things too much. If you were writing a philosophical treatise, that'd be different.

Regarding justifying life as the standard of value, in order to keep it simple, one easy thing to say is something along the lines of how the fundamental choice is between existence and nonexistence. Nonexistence requires no standard or action, while maintaining one's existence requires a variety of goals.

When I say effort I mean that a man lives by his own effort if he makes something himself, if he trades something (ultimately it is his effort that got him what he traded for), or if he is given something freely (his effort of being virtuous has brought him whatever it is he was given). I mean to exclude theft etc.

Right, but what I'm saying is that thinking is more fundamental than all of that. Each of those efforts also requires effort of the mind. To show an Oist point of view on rights would really require an emphasis on the mind being the most important aspect of survival. I think pointing that out also will help to differentiate from an explicitly libertarian point of view that focuses on rights coming from self-ownership or something like that.

You say that theft is detrimental to those who do it. How is this the case? Suppose I defraud a a company, one I will never have dealings with in the future. I come away with a large sum of money that I can spend as I please and which makes me very happy. My crime was perfect and I will never be found out. How has stealing harmed me to a greater extent than the benefit it has brought?

Keeping the context of rights here, it may not be necessary to say how it's against one's self-interest to steal, though you can use the prudent predator sort of example here to show why rights need to be defended. Without any defense of rights, it's a lot easier for someone to come along and destroy value on a temporary whim. If you want a better understanding of why it is also not egoistic to act in that way, one thread to consider is this one: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=20422 the posts by Dante I find to be good.

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The presentation isn't until January? Ah, cool, you've got time then.

As for what other philosophies and their advocates may say about the axioms and how to demonstrate that they are indeed unavoidable, this issue is addressed early on in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand which I mentioned earlier. A quick example would be things like that if somebody tried to deny that a thing was itself (the axiom of identity), then their argument becomes incoherent because any words they say would hold no particular meaning. It would be impossible to communicate ideas because communication depends on established meanings of terms staying pretty consistent and therefore predictable, something which a thing not being itself would destroy. Somebody could tell you "I'm right!" and then what would that mean? What is "I" and what is "right"? What even does "mean" mean? Et cetera. If somebody tries to deny existence existing or that they were conscious, how would do they believe they could even be able to make their arguments if they were correct? Things have to exist for anything to happen or be done, argumentation being no exception, and beliefs, opinions, ideas and such are only possible to the conscious. That existence and consciousness exist as axioms doesn't right there in and of itself make any clear statements yet though about exactly how they function and what form they have though, a common mistake I've seen where people think presenting a hypothetical scenario where you or existence are not in the form you have always thought it was suddenly proves there is no consciousness or existence, as if existence and consciousness were synonymous with existence and consciousness as we know them only, which simply isn't true. The defenses of existence and consciousness as we know it basically just come along later, after the establishment of the axioms first. Now, aside from that, I don't know a whole lot about what specific flawed arguments various philosophies have aside from that they must fall victim to the problems I mentioned above, however, there are some people around here that are philosophy majors and would probably know a lot more about this. If you go ask around in the chat on this forum some time, somebody may be able to address this in more specifics for you and mention some sources you can cite for these people's arguments.

"I'm unsure about my 7th slide. I say that we can observe people chasing things, so we know there are values. These imply a choice, which implies a standard for gauging values against one another. I then say that this standard is life. I think that is quite a jump, however. How could I effectively justify this leap? Why is life man's ultimate value?"

Ah, starting by defining your terms is a good idea. What is a value? This entry in the Ayn Rand Lexicon on "Value" has a nice answer to that. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/values.html Check it out, it pretty succinctly solves your fuzziness here on how to solidly establish and convey life as the standard of value.

The switch to the term coercion sounds like it solves the problem pretty well, especially since you say you are going to define the term too in your presentation.

For the "trying to make them think on his own terms" thing, that typically isn't the issue. Trying to change somebody's mind (which is what that phrase from you sounds like even if it may not have been what you meant) about something isn't necessarily a problem and doesn't generally involve force. More or less the issue is about trying to forcefully make somebody act in accordance with your thoughts as opposed to their own when you cannot or just do not try to persuade them to act in accordance with your thoughts by their own free will. This is bad going back to how 1) we cannot exist without existing as something particular and 2) what we are is a creature whose nature demands we use our reason to pursue our own best interests, to survive and thrive. 3) Forcing or defrauding people to do your bidding rather than relying on reason is in contradiction to our nature, which 4) is basically going back to trying to deny the axiom of identity, which of course devolves into incoherence if you do it, and 5) for a creature whose nature demands the utilization of reason to navigate the world and survive, that again is the road to misery and death. You also get contradictions in that rights arise from our nature as individuals whose nature is primarily dependent on reason to live, but this predator is trying to act like they can have rights and/or they should be allowed to pursue their own interests, but other people - who have the same basic nature as far as what gives rise to rights and that sort of thing - should not be able to. This is known as the logical fallacy of "special pleading" (http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/special-pleading.html), more irrational contradictions showing how the predation upon other people depends upon eating away at your crucial rational capabilities.

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