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Merge: Rights, Life

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But isn't that the semantics attached to our usage of the term of "right": "some ultimate metaphysical source of man's rights which exists without necessity of validation", isn't that the "truth" we are actually trying and hoping to find out in the end, but which we will at best be bound to believe in, but never will know for sure.

In short, no. Ask yourself the same question about the Laws of Physics: is there a preexisting source which contains every Law of Physics that reveals these Laws to humans? If not, does that mean that the Laws of Physics are arbitrary conventions agreed upon by humans? I claim that rights have the same epistemological status as the Laws of Physics.

Well, "discovering the nature of man", doesn't that just simply mean "observing man's actions in order to find out his intentions so we can apply some reasonable automatic control to enable man to achieve his most obvious objectives"? And how are these human actions being motivated in the first place? Aren't human actions initially based "on a whim"? I mean, what else should they be based on in the first place? And if so, what's wrong about saying that rights are rules created to enable everyone to act on his own whim, whim being the cause and the point of declaring rights?

No, what one needs to discover about man is how he survives when on his own. Then, you design your rights so he can still do that in the context of a society. Since man has no automatic knowledge about the world, he has to use his mind and effort to use things in the world to suit his purposes. This includes being able to think and act freely, without his actions being forced to work against him. Because of this, one must preserve this freedom of thought and action in the context of a society of the society is to be a moral one. This fredom of thought and action is called a right.

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Rights dont exist independently of humans, nor are they given from up high - they are entirely a product of human invention and would not exist without us. But this doesnt mean that they are subjective or not based on actual facts. The equator is in a sense a 'human creation' (there isnt really a line running around the earth) as are numbers and money, but all of these things are based on aspects of reality. The grounding for rights is that they constitute the bare essentials needed for humans to live. Regardless of whether you believe there is a 'right to life and liberty', it remains a brute fact that these things are essential to human survival, thus the decision to explictly codify them in a set of rights.

...which brings us back to the principle of usefulness. If "right" is used as a synonyme for a tool that is neccessary for human survival etc., it is clear that they would not exist without us.

But unfortunately, this term ("right") for many has some different semantics attached to it by definition: Many would define a right as something given from up high, an idea. That's why this expression is quite problematic.

So if the the term "right" doesn't contain the idea of "god-givenness" already by official definition, it is clear how they are based on actual facts.

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But unfortunately, this term ("right") for many has some different semantics attached to it by definition: Many would define a right as something given from up high, an idea.

Well yes, but not in Objectivist circles. If youre intersted in Ayn Rand's views then the book "Virtue of Selfishness" would be the best place to look, mainly the short essays "The Objectivist Ethics" and "Man's Rights".

Edited by Hal
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You are asking if rights are axiomatic (i.e. "obvious") or if they can be derived from other ideas and concepts. Correct?
Yeah, that's my question

Are you also implying that you know that you require people to respect your rights if you are to be happy, but you cannot understand why they should do so. You understand your need for rights but you question your need to respect the rights of others?

Just trying to clarify your focus so I or others can point you in the right direction.

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Now whats wrong about that coconut simile?

It's an analogy, thank you.

Rights are part of the Objectivist Ethics, which is based on Epistemology, which is itself based on Metaphysics and the Three Axioms. So THERE'S where rights come from and their basis.

Rights are not "self-evident" . . . this is the reason they are collapsing in practice.

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Are you also implying that you know that you require people to respect your rights if you are to be happy, but you cannot understand why they should do so. You understand your need for rights but you question your need to respect the rights of others? 

Just trying to clarify your focus so I or others can point you in the right direction.

I'm implying that the respect for the rights of others must be mutual, otherwise there'd be no point of laying down any right at all.

But I'm not sure whether this answers your question.

And in case there are such things as "rights prior to human existence", "god-given rights" equally given to everyone, it must be mutual as well.

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It's an analogy, thank you.

Rights are part of the Objectivist Ethics, which is based on Epistemology, which is itself based on Metaphysics and the Three Axioms.  So THERE'S where rights come from and their basis.

Rights are not "self-evident" . . . this is the reason they are collapsing in practice.

Which are the Three Axioms?

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And in case there are such things as "rights prior to human existence", "god-given rights" equally given to everyone, it must be mutual as well.

Rights are definitely not god-given, nor are they "prior to human existence".

Put simply, they're a concept that names an essential element that is required to transition from individual morality to life in society. They are the bridge from Ethics to Politics.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Bobby66,

you ask about the justification of rights, specifically the right to life. I take it that you are not acquainted with Ayn Rands philosophical system (you read on Capmag we were for rights...).

Ayn Rand did not originate the idea of individual rights (of which the right to life is the fundamental right). That was done by John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government (1690). Locke had both a dogmatic religious view on rights (ref. his "workmanship"-argument in the 2nd Tr.) and a secular reasonable justification, but it was the religious justification of rights that historically survived. Now, Locke influenced the Founding Fathers (especially Jefferson), as you perhaps know. Especially ominous was the notion manifested that "we take these rights to be self evident" and given to us by a God. Now, today Locke has been discarded by many scholars as in fact being against individual rights, but a reading first-hand of the 2nd Tr. will tell you that this is a false view. Also, the religious component in Locke - overemphasized in his interpreters I think - lead to the disrepute of individual rights, because they saw his theory as tainted (which it was) with religious unscientific rationalizations. Your notion that individual rights are not grounded in anything but a root choice, ungrounded in reason, is the watered-out argument of those who historically opposed individual rights in their fight for collectivism (a motive I do not think you have).

Now, what Ayn Rand does is to provide a whole rational secular philosophic system that supports individual rights without the flaws this theory historically suffered from. You see, from history we can draw the conclusion that a political theory needs such a justification if it shall survive the test of time and the attacks from its intellectual enemies. Ayn Rand brilliantly defends these rights I think, and she ads new insights specifically of what in fact rights are. Just to mention one unique contribution to the defense of rights contributed by Ayn Rand. Locke speaks throughout his 2nd Treatise of how destructive force is, but to my knowledge Ayn Rand is the only one who identifies and emphasizes that the initiation of force, or threat thereof, is the only means by which rights can be violated.

But to really appreciate Ayn Rands defense of individual rights you have to look to the philosophic theory on which it rests. It rest on an ethic of rational self-interest, of an identification of man as a volitional rational animal with reason as his only means of knowledge and survival. In short, all your questions on what does rights depend on (or how can man live a rational life in society) rest on the other more fundamental (ethics, epistemology, metaphysics/ontology) branches of philosophy.

And by the way, the notion that rights are axioms chosen by whim is the libertarian view of rights, which leaves rights totally undefended and floating in the air without any justification at all. We are not libertarians and libertarians have nothing to do with Ayn Rands philosophy. She herself did everything in her power to distance herself from these subjectivist whim-whorshipping (her own words) "hippies of the right".

Edited by Harald
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@all

Judging from all the replies to my postings, I think things have become much clearer to me now concerning the objectivist views. I understand that objectivism isn't about finding absolute values at all (which is the task of religion), but about finding objective values, which can only be found by an individual and for that individual himself.

And by the way, the notion that rights are axioms chosen by whim is the libertarian view of rights, which leaves rights totally undefended and floating in the air without any justification at all. We are not libertarians and libertarians have nothing to do with Ayn Rands philosophy. She herself did everything in her power to distance herself from these subjectivist whim-whorshipping (her own words) "hippies of the right".

I find it hard to distinguish between libertarians and objectivists, since the definitions I found pretty much correspond to descriptions of objectivists.

When I associated rights with axioms chosen by whim, what I had in mind was practical life as we observe it today: Social economies as in most parts of Europe must be based on the whim, that is, the desire for social security of those human beings who decided on a "social hammock". I wasn't saying what rights should be, but what they tend to be in practice.

But where exactly do libertarians claim that rights are "floating in the air". As far as I understand, libertarians have a view that is pretty much as laissez-faire as the objectivists'. Or do you actually mean "liberals" in the sense as you use it over there. I find this whole liberal-libertarian hodgepodge confusing, because in Europe "liberal" doesn't refer to welfare state and socialsm at all. It's the opposite (Just in case you understand some German, go to The FDP's Homepage to see what I mean).

Greets

Bobby66

Edited by Bobby66
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But where exactly do libertarians claim that rights are "floating in the air". As far as I understand, libertarians have a view that is pretty much as laissez-faire as the objectivists'. Or do you actually mean "liberals" in the sense as you use it over there. I find this whole liberal-libertarian hodgepodge confusing, because in Europe "liberal" doesn't refer to welfare state and socialsm at all. It's the opposite (Just in case you understand some German, go to The FDP's Homepage to see what I mean).

Greets

Bobby66

Libertarians won't claim that rights are floating in the air-but they also do not have a philosophical structure with which to ground them. Objectivism is a complete system and structure which clearly defines the epistemology used to determine rights, and much more.

Libertarians share many similarities with Liberals, and with Conservatives, (and as you noticed-with Objectivism) they are a hodgepodge of many ideas. Sort of a hand plucking of various aspects of other political groups with no foundation on which they are to stand (except the umbrella term *liberty*). That is why we would say that to them rights are *floating in air* up with their other abstractions.

Edited by Dominique
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Libertarians won't claim that rights are floating in the air-but they also do not have a philosophical structure with which to ground them. Objectivism is a complete system and structure which clearly defines the epistemology used to determine rights, and much more.

Libertarians share many similarities with Liberals, and with Conservatives, (and as you noticed-with Objectivism) they are a hodgepodge of many ideas. Sort of a hand plucking of various aspects of other political groups with no foundation on which they are to stand (except the umbrella term *liberty*). That is why we would say that to them rights are *floating in air* up with their other abstractions.

But don't they mean just the same thing (*liberty*, that is the right to individual life) ?

Can you give me an example for why they don't have a system?

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I find it hard to distinguish between libertarians and objectivists, since the definitions I found pretty much correspond to descriptions of objectivists.

Yes, they're the wolves in sheep's clothings. :) (Well, sheep is not the animal one would typically associate with Objectivists, but you get the idea.)

The essential difference is that while Objectivism is based on the Primacy of Existence, Libertarianism is based on the Primacy of Liberty. Objectivism advocates that you choose to be bound by the laws of reality--in every area of life, from gaining knowledge to formulating moral principles to judging works of art, from your most private matters to your business relationships to politics--while Libertarians base their phjlosophy on their desire to be free from constraints, BOTH from constraints imposed by other men AND from the immutable laws of reality.

So, while there is an overlap in the area of politics, where both Objectivists and Libertarians are against the initiation of force, the two philosophies are diametrical opposites at their roots, where Objectivism tells you to obey Nature so you can command her, while Libertarianism rebels against reality in a helpless and pointless rage.

An Objectivist has only one master: Reality. A Libertarian recognizes no master. Which means that both refuse to recognize other men as their masters--hence the superficial similarity in politics--but are fundamentally different in their approach to everything else. An Objectivist is earnest, principled, confident, ambitious, enthusiastic; a Libertarian is cynical, frivolous, resigned, embittered, and defeatistic.

(And if you look closer at the politics, you'll find that the similarities extend no farther than the surface: Objectivists support a government that uncompromisingly defends the rights of individuals, while Libertarians hate the government even--or especially--) when it defends the rights of individuals.

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But libertarianism isn't a philosophy, is it? It's jst a political attitude. So in the field of politics, libertarians draw the same conclusions as objectivists because the libertarian principle (liberty) implies everything an objectivist can expect from a government, though libertarianism may have no philosophical basis, so it differs in private issues, right?

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But libertarianism isn't a philosophy, is it?

Everyone has at least an implicit philosophy. For Libertarians, the denial of the need for a philosophical base for politics is a part of their implicit philosophy.

So in the field of politics, libertarians draw the same conclusions as objectivists because the libertarian principle (liberty) implies everything an objectivist can expect from a government

Not quite. Libertarians at best tend to dodge the issue of what exactly they expect from a government; at worst, they are explicit anarchists.

If you ask them, "Is it OK for the government to violate the rights of individuals?" they will say exactly what Objectivism says: "No." But if you ask them, "Should the government make laws against crime? Should the government prosecute and punish criminals? Should the government maintain a standing army and use it actively against foreign threats?" they will either hem and haw and refuse to give a clear answer--or give a clear answer of "No." Objectivism, by contrast, answers all those questions with a definite, uncompromising "Yes."

So the similarities go only as far as the negative--what the government shouldn't do--but they are absent when looking at the positive, at what the government should do.

so it differs in private issues, right?

Yes, it differs very much in private issues.

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If you ask them, "Is it OK for the government to violate the rights of individuals?" they will say exactly what Objectivism says: "No." But if you ask them, "Should the government make laws against crime? Should the government prosecute and punish criminals? Should the government maintain a standing army and use it actively against foreign threats?" they will either hem and haw and refuse to give a clear answer--or give a clear answer of "No." Objectivism, by contrast, answers all those questions with a definite, uncompromising "Yes."

So the similarities go only as far as the negative--what the government shouldn't do--but they are absent when looking at the positive, at what the government should do.

How come? If their main objective is "liberty", their answer should be just the same, since the liberty of a person ends where the liberty of another one begins. How could they claim to be respecting "liberty" if they actually didn't wanna make the effords to grant it? Such kinda "liberty" would be just a wishy-washy conception, which may be the main reason for its survival on the political landscape.

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How come? If their main objective is "liberty", their answer should be just the same, since the liberty of a person ends where the liberty of another one begins. How could they claim to be respecting "liberty" if they actually didn't wanna make the effords to grant it? Such kinda "liberty" would be just a wishy-washy conception, which may be the main reason for its survival on the political landscape.

In a roundabout way you are decribing exactly how the libertarians lack a solid philosophic base and why there ideas either can never work consistently or are wrong.

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Bobby66,

I think you might be smitten with utilitarianism - a theory totally at odds with Objectivism or any theory of individual rights. This theory (utilitarianism) is so all pervasive in political philosophy and our modern way of thinking that it is not so easy to detect.

The signature quote you enclose in every one of your posts is from the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham - in the history of political philosophy Bentham is an arch enemy of individual rights. It was he who called Locke's theory of individual rights "Nonsense on Stilts" and it was he who lead the main initial attack on individual rights.

As you may see, if you study your signature quote, Bentham bases his whole idea of morality - and so his political morality - on the hedonistic pleasure-pain mechanism (hedonism stems from the Epicureans). He says that all of man's thoughts and actions are basically stemming from "two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure" (a view we now see in the modern "emotivism" doctrine). Reason, for instance in the form of a morality upholding man's rights, is for him really just rationalized emotion (and so can hold no more weight than other "thoughts" or "notions"). For him reason is not king but "a slave of the passions" (Hume's formulation but it holds for Bentham too). If you read Hobbes Leviathan, that disastrously influential tract defending authoritarianism, you will see the same ideas at work in Hobbes view on man (and hence his view of morality and political philosophy). This view of reason has had disastrous effects. If you effectively dispense with reason you are inviting disaster, and certainly you cannot defend liberty if you view man as basically a beast driven by his passions (would you open the door to the lion gates?).

After Bentham came JS Mill and his rule utilitarianism (a part of which I recognize in your posts), but Mills more sophisticated utilitarianism still suffers from the same problems as Bentham's.

The theory of utilitarianism is incompatible with individual rights and has been picked apart so many times by political philosophers, Ayn Rand included, that I refer you to those critiques for a more in-depth understanding of the weakness of this theory. Suffice it to point out that the theory lacks any correct understanding of human nature, reason, knowledge, morality (it preaches self-sacrifice), standard of values. Utilitarianism leads to authoritarianism and the violation of rights and is collectivist in nature ("greatest happiness for the greatest number", being its stale dead-end mantra).

Edited by Harald
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  • 3 weeks later...
Bobby66,

I think you might be smitten with utilitarianism - a theory totally at odds with Objectivism or any theory of individual rights. This theory (utilitarianism) is so all pervasive in political philosophy and our modern way of thinking that it is not so easy to detect.

The signature quote you enclose in every one of your posts is from the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham - in the history of political philosophy Bentham is an arch enemy of individual rights. It was he who called Locke's theory of individual rights "Nonsense on Stilts" and it was he who lead the main initial attack on individual rights. 

As you may see, if you study your signature quote, Bentham bases his whole idea of morality - and so his political morality - on the hedonistic pleasure-pain mechanism (hedonism stems from the Epicureans). He says that all of man's thoughts and actions are basically stemming from "two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure" (a view we now see in the modern "emotivism" doctrine). Reason, for instance in the form of a morality upholding man's rights, is for him really just rationalized emotion (and so can hold no more weight than other "thoughts" or "notions"). For him reason is not king but "a slave of the passions" (Hume's formulation but it holds for Bentham too). If you read Hobbes Leviathan, that disastrously influential tract defending authoritarianism, you will see the same ideas at work in Hobbes view on man (and hence his view of morality and political philosophy). This view of reason has had disastrous effects. If you effectively dispense with reason you are inviting disaster, and certainly you cannot defend liberty if you view man as basically a beast driven by his passions (would you open the door to the lion gates?).

After Bentham came JS Mill and his rule utilitarianism (a part of which I recognize in your posts), but Mills more sophisticated utilitarianism still suffers from the same problems as Bentham's.

The theory of utilitarianism is incompatible with individual rights and has been picked apart so many times by political philosophers, Ayn Rand included, that I refer you to those critiques for a more in-depth understanding of the weakness of this theory. Suffice it to point out that the theory lacks any correct understanding of human nature, reason, knowledge, morality (it preaches self-sacrifice), standard of values. Utilitarianism  leads to authoritarianism and the violation of rights and is collectivist in nature ("greatest happiness for the greatest number", being its stale dead-end mantra).

I realize the lack of legality for utalitarianism as a political system. My quotations are not meant to determine what political system we are supposed to be living in, but to point out human motivations for their actions and their subjective thinking.

But what do you mean by reason being king? King of what? Surely not of your motivation. What do you think tells you what you value? Reason tells you what is true and false, but "interesting" or "worth pursuing" is a voice that is expressed by the emotion. Reason is a means to happiness, i.e. pleasant emotions, but not happiness itself. I surely wouldn't be trying to be succesful at something without the outlook for pleasant sensations as fun, self-esteem etc. in the future.

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I realize the lack of legality for utalitarianism as a political system. My quotations are not meant to determine what political system we are supposed to be living in, but to point out human motivations for their actions and their subjective thinking.

Don't presume that everyone's thinking is subjective.

But what do you mean by reason being king? King of what? Surely not of your motivation. What do you think tells you what you value? Reason tells you what is true and false, but "interesting" or "worth pursuing" is a voice that is expressed by the emotion. Reason is a means to happiness, i.e. pleasant emotions, but not happiness itself. I surely wouldn't be trying to be succesful at something without the outlook for pleasant sensations as fun, self-esteem etc. in the future.

Emotions are not tools of cognition. REASON is your only means of knowledge. Your emotions are programmed by the premises you hold, consciously or subconsciously. How do you identify what exists in reality to BE "interesting" or "worth pursuing?" By wielding your reason on the evidence of your senses. Your reason can tell you, as you said, "true or false?", "right or wrong?" You have no choice but to feel that SOMETHING is good for you or ill, but WHAT it is must be identified by your reason. Without identification no emotional response can exist.

Emotions are instant evaluations. If properly tied to reality by consciously-identified premises and principles that you judge, in reason, to be correct, they assist you tremendously in the task of living your life; instead of having to pull up every fact of your knowledge about a subject to evaluate it, you receive, by means of a sensation, everything you need to know.

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But even if this sounds so trivial to us, how do we rationally explain this right?

We use our knowledge of the human condition, IOW, we deduce that a right to life is a virtual absolute based on our knowledge of the human condition, ie, ALL mentally stable people want to live, our physiology is geared towards living.

Knowledge of the human condition should be the basis of any objective ethics.

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Emotions are not tools of cognition.  REASON is your only means of knowledge.

Let me get something straight: When I say "reason", I mean logical and factual thinking alone. This doesn't include any feeling of "good" or "bad". Only the ability that e.g. enables you to solve a mathematical task at school.

Your emotions are programmed by the premises you hold, consciously or subconsciously.  How do you identify what exists in reality to BE "interesting" or "worth pursuing?" 

By the quality of experience, i.e. the quality of the sensation I feel. This can be pleasant in many ways or painful.

By wielding your reason on the evidence of your senses.  Your reason can tell you, as you said, "true or false?", "right or wrong?"  You have no choice but to feel that SOMETHING is good for you or ill, but WHAT it is must be identified by your reason.  Without identification no emotional response can exist.

And without emotional response it would all be boring, wouldn't it? This makes the emotion the main thing, the essence of the enjoyment. What would everything be without the emotional sensation? Uninteresting.

Talking about identification prior to emotional response, I can't remember to have had things like "clear cut face", "blonde hair", "brunette hair", "silky skin", "tiny lips" or anything else directly in my brain before feeling attracted by a beautiful girl, all though all these things more or less have often been neccessary for the sensation to occur. It is the image as a whole that causes the sensation, without being aware of anything in abstraction in my brain.

Emotions are instant evaluations.  If properly tied to reality by consciously-identified premises and principles that you judge, in reason, to be correct, they assist you tremendously in the task of living your life; instead of having to pull up every fact of your knowledge about a subject to evaluate it, you receive, by means of a sensation, everything you need to know.

There you are, "by means of a sensation".

Edited by Bobby66
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We use our knowledge of the human condition, IOW, we  deduce that a right to life is a virtual absolute based on our knowledge of the human condition, ie, ALL mentally stable people want to live, our physiology is geared towards living.

Knowledge of the human condition should be the basis of any objective ethics.

That's right, but adding that all people are selfish in nature, i.e. they value their own life each, one could also continue arguing that not all people need the constitution of rights as long as they know they are protected by a group large enough to defend them against enemies. But that would lead to a hobbesian world picture.

What about the human drive for rightousness and selfjustification, the desire for "freedom of guilt" (with being guilty = having destroyed his means of survival)? Would that be an alternative?

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