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The right to one's life: where does it come from?

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I understand that all rights are consequences of the fundamental right to one's own life. But how does Objectivism justify the right to one's life itself? I'm scanning through OPAR and the Ayn Rand lexicon and not finding an explicit answer. The only answer I can think of is that, if one wishes to live, he needs a moral code based on the requirements for life. Is there any deeper an explanation than that?

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In some languages, there are two different words for the two different concepts that are both labelled "right" in English. Understood correctly, and with the elaboration that follows, people have a

I think the issue can be clarified by not asking, "How does Objectivism justify the right to one's life?", and instead, ask yourself, "How do you justify your own right to your own life?"  Do you need

Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard published Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society. These are the main subdivisions found in the article.. Traditional Theories of R

I think the issue can be clarified by not asking, "How does Objectivism justify the right to one's life?", and instead, ask yourself, "How do you justify your own right to your own life?"  Do you need any consensus to justify your right to live?  Or are you an end in yourself, rather than the means to someonelse's ends?

Edited by New Buddha
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Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard published Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society.

These are the main subdivisions found in the article..

Traditional Theories of Rights and Why They Are Wrong

God-Given Rights

Government-Granted Rights

Natural Rights

Ayn Rand’s Observation-Based Morality
Ayn Rand’s Observation-Based Principle of Rights

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A right is a condition of existence required by a human being to live according to their nature (almost a Rand quote). The concept "right" exists at the political (some could argue ethical) philosophy level, not the metaphysical or epistemological level. 

 

The confusion comes in the modern idea that a right is something awarded to a person by some other entity, person, or group.  Under the common mis-definition of rights, it becomes necessary to define them in the context of your ability (personally or thru associations with others) to fight off the other humans who want to take your right to life or property. This mis-definition of rights is based on a malignant view of human beings (al la Kant, Schopenhauer, etc.). 

 

The answer in Objectivism, to the OP question of "justify the right to your life," is, you don't have to.  You need to re-think the idea of "right to life" if you ask that question.

 

The correct question in the context of Objectivism is "how do you defend (not justify) if necessary, your right to life?"  The answer is the correct political philosophy.

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The only answer I can think of is that, if one wishes to live, he needs a moral code based on the requirements for life. Is there any deeper an explanation than that?

Since you don't mention it explicitly, I thought I'd point out that rights are only meaningful in a social context. Check out Rand's essay 'Man's Rights".

 

...the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others — the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context — the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

You could paraphrase it thus:

* we start with a moral code that says each person should selfishly pursue their own happiness

* then, we recognize that society is a huge value (for friendship and for the exchange of goods and ideas)

* so, the question is: how can each person continue to pursue their own happiness and yet live in society... is there a principle they can apply?

* we realize that the selfish pursuit has to stop at some line beyond which it inhibits the other person's pursuit of happiness

* we thus come to the idea of rights

 

Following these steps, one can still have varied notions of what actual, concrete rights are appropriate, but those are the broad steps

 

Edited by softwareNerd
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Since you don't mention it explicitly, I thought I'd point out that rights are only meaningful in a social context. Check out Rand's essay 'Man's Rights".

 

You could paraphrase it thus:

* we start with a moral code that says each person should selfishly pursue their own happiness

* then, we recognize that society is a huge value (for friendship and for the exchange of goods and ideas)

* so, the question is: how can each person continue to pursue their own happiness and yet live in society... is there a principle they can apply?

* we realize that the selfish pursuit has to stop at some line beyond which it inhibits the other person's pursuit of happiness

* we thus come to the idea of rights

 

Following these steps, one can still have varied notions of what actual, concrete rights are appropriate, but those are the broad steps

 

SN, careful, the second last point might be misleading to a novice.  Philosophically rights cannot conflict with each other because they are, in the selfish pursuit of happiness (to paraphrase), freedoms "from" interference rather than rights TO anything or anyone, and hence exercise of one person's right can never be a violation of another person's right, and equally the violation of a second person's right is determinative in defining what the first person was exercising was not a right. 

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Philosophically rights cannot conflict with each other ...

True, but -- like many fundamental ideas that are a critical starting point when describing a concept -- I think a novice has to discover this later, and work it back into the concept. So, I'd add it as the last point in my list... though I'd really not say it to a novice at all, because it would be too much too soon.

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True, but -- like many fundamental ideas that are a critical starting point when describing a concept -- I think a novice has to discover this later, and work it back into the concept. So, I'd add it as the last point in my list... though I'd really not say it to a novice at all, because it would be too much too soon.

 

True.

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Txs to the posters that came after my last post.  They didn't, but they could have used the point they were making to point out to me that I was not drawing a clear enough distinction between "human rights" in the context of ethics vs. politics (I fall into the collective too). 

 

I should have added, in my last post, that a right to life should be a complete and accurate concept if the subject person were living alone in the wilderness. This would show the defining nature of the concept. (This is a great metaphor to show the truth of Ms. Rand's definition of "human rights")

 

Alone in the wilderness, the bears and the natives become a metaphor for the criminals and the neighbor group.  My point is that in Objectivism, "rights" are defined by reference to reality not to social convention. Sorry, I got confused.

Edited by jacassidy2
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* we start with a moral code that says each person should selfishly pursue their own happiness

 

Hmm, I'm not sure I get this. I thought we start with the idea that life is the sandard of value, and that the selfish pursuit of one's own happiness is the means to the end of furthering one's life.

Edited by Asker of Questions
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Hmm, I'm not sure I get this. I thought we start with the idea that life is the sandard of value, and that the selfish pursuit of one's own happiness is the means to the end of furthering one's life.

 

If we're not accepting any givens - then the "start" is:

 

---each "thing is what it is,"  "consciousness is one of those things," "all things are what they are in their attributes and/or characteristics," and "the nature of entity attributes determines what actions they can cause or what actions can be caused in a way that effects them."  The idea that life is a value to be maintained is based in the above.  Only life can seek value because only life is conditional metaphysically.  The idea of seeking value is one basis to the definition of "right" based on the definition explained in earlier posts.

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...   ...

Particularly on the question-premise of rights deriving from a social context....

I challenge that notion ...

"It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. ..."

The moment you say "another man", you're specifying a "social context". So, perhaps your disagreement is really about the existents that comprize that latter phrase.
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SN said:

The moment you say "another man", you're specifying a "social context". So, perhaps your disagreement is really about the existents that comprize that latter phrase.

Have you read my comments in the referenced thread?

"Another man" presupposes a social context indeed. The right to life qua individual does not derive from the question of whether or not "another" possesses that right, or if I can take it. The general extension to others is a consequence of having derived the identity dictated requirements of ones own life.(irrespective of anyone around to challenge it)

Governments are created to secure rights, not grant them.

Edited by Plasmatic
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The moment you say "another man", you're specifying a "social context". So, perhaps your disagreement is really about the existents that comprize that latter phrase.

 

As the source of a right to life is oneself, the social context is primarily a matter of security, isn't it?  For example a man on a desert isle would have a right to life but no need for securing it socially.  He might consider some actions in the context of future consequences to others not yet present, but being alone doesn't imply being rightless, does it??

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As the source of a right to life is oneself, the social context is primarily a matter of security, isn't it?  For example a man on a desert isle would have a right to life but no need for securing it socially.  He might consider some actions in the context of future consequences to others not yet present, but being alone doesn't imply being rightless, does it??

Rights without the existence of another human are like weight in a weightless environment. When you speak "consequences to others not yet present" you are specifying a social context.

Added: You must at least imagine the existence of another human being to be able to imagine a reality where rights are meaningful. In other words, you must at least imagine a social context.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Rights without the existence of another human are like weight in a weightless environment...

...

 

Weight in a weightless environment remains a metaphysical reality.  If your point is to imply a lack of relevance, I disagree; gravity is gravity.

 

... When you speak "consequences to others not yet present" you are specifying a social context.

Added: You must at least imagine the existence of another human being to be able to imagine a reality where rights are meaningful. In other words, you must at least imagine a social context.

 

Yes, and I was leaning on what Locke expressed by arguing that ones claim on property would go unchallenged to the degree that there remained enough to go around.

 

In terms of imagination, it isn't possible for even a hermit to have no awareness of others, i.e., to believe that others like him don't exist.  So to say a right to life is delimited to a social context as if it doesn't exist without someone else is just wrong.  There's always someone else.

 

We don't discover this right by discovering others.  We discover this right by determining what is ours to claim given that we know others exist even if they are not immediately present.

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I'm not sure if we have any disagreement, because I agree with most you say.

Weight in a weightless environment remains a metaphysical reality.  If your point is to imply a lack of relevance, I disagree; gravity is gravity.

If weightless was universal, weight would not be a metaphysical reality. 

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This thread got a little side-tracked, but your last post does not give people an indication of what needs extra explanation. 

Hmm, I'm not sure I get this. I thought we start with the idea that life is the sandard of value, and that the selfish pursuit of one's own happiness is the means to the end of furthering one's life.

 

At the risk of repetition: how will you pursue your happiness if you don't have rights? To take an extreme case, a slave cannot pursue his happiness freely. So, the political institution of slavery is inconsistent with a moral code that tells everyone to pursue their own individual happiness.

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Where does the right come from?  The right is defined as conditions of existence required to live according to human nature, so the answer is, under this definition, it comes from reality.  Asking where does it come from suggests a consciousness as a cause and that is an error.  Human right are not sourced in social interaction.

 

Jefferson said they are unalienable and he based that in religious mysticism.  Rand might say they are unalienable based on the Law of Identity.

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Hmm, I'm not sure I get this. I thought we start with the idea that life is the sandard of value, and that the selfish pursuit of one's own happiness is the means to the end of furthering one's life.
Is it?

If we're talking about "life" in the sense of our continued metabolic activity then, while happiness might slightly improve your odds of survival, it'd be in a very limited way. Your heart doesn't need happiness or self-fulfillment, in order to beat; it doesn't even need your higher brain activity. If "life" means a continued heartbeat then braindead people lying in hospitals are succeeding at it.

And yet, what difference would a heartbeat mean to you if your brain was dead anyway?

Is there something else that "life" could mean, then?

"For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors... And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it."

-Galt's Speech

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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