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http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/conditions/...t.ap/index.html

This child can't think for herself, can she? She is incapable of making rational decisions, of living a rational life on her own.

Static Encephalopathy, as defined by Easter Seals: "Permanent or unchanging brain damage. The effects on development depend on the part of the brain involved and on the severity of the damage. Developmental problems may include any of a range of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, mental retardation, autism, PDD, speech delays, attention deficits, hearing & vision impairments, oral motor problems, etc."

Shouldn't the parents, who hold responsibility for her, be able to decide what to do with her? If she were unmanageable at 5'6", then she may not receive as good care as she might be receiving now. In the end, shouldn't the parents be able to decide what to do for their child since their child can't decide for herself...and will never have the capacity to decide?

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Shouldn't the parents, who hold responsibility for her, be able to decide what to do with her?
This is one of those horrendously complex problems that has no good solution, just the best that you can come up with at the moment. Although children are dependent on their parents and parents have the responsibility to protect the rights of their children, a child is not property. Normal adults are allowed to act as they see fit (within obvious limits), because they are assumed to have the capacity to use their rational faculty in choosing what to do. In this case, the child cannot do this; but it doesn't follow that the parents have an intrinsic right to make decisions on her behalf. Some other person might be in a better position to decide this. The basic principle should be this: act in whatever manner best advances the child's life. This is exactly the same as Objectivist ethics applied to the ubiquitous moral question "what should I do?", with the important difference that the child cannot make that judgment for herself.

The article doesn't give any evidence suggesting that this was a bad choice on the parents' part, or that there is an objectively better option. However, I can imagine a situation where it would be the parents opposing the surgery, in which case I would not automatically defer to the parents' judgment. The issue should be decided on objective "what's best" grounds, not procedural "who decides" grounds.

I'm annoyed at the professional ethicist (I can't say that I've ever encounter one who wasn't an immoral jerk), who seems to have the moronic view that mentally incapacitated people should be left to rot because they can't give informed consent. I think his underlying assumption must be that the child would prefer to grow to full adult size, if given the choice. I don't see any reason to assume that (and there's no reason to assume that the child can exercise choice).

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This problem does have a solution, you just have to break it down to completely bare, rational terms. It's hard not to let emotion get involved, however, and I can understand that. Here is the way I see it:

A mentally handicapped person has no "rights" per se, because in order to have rights one must be able to use reason. Therefore, by doing this surgery, her rights were in no way being violated, because, since a retarded person is treated as a child forever, the parents are granted the "right" to bring her up as they see fit. They clearly thought the surgery was in her best interest, and the government has no place to interefere, neither does anyone else. The doctors and the parents gave clear, explicit reasons as to why they performed the surgery; all was for the benefit of the girl and the well being of the family. In my opinion, unless it can be proven that they have taken away from this girl's quality of life, this is a non-issue. The problem is that people tend to throw rationality out the window when it comes to problems like these. That is unfortunate. I really hope for the best for this girl.

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A mentally handicapped person has no "rights" per se, because in order to have rights one must be able to use reason.
Actually, rights are a political concept, the means of subordinating society to moral law. They are recognized at the conceptual level, for example "man's rights", and not the concrete level "the rights of these particular individuals", so in a society that recognized that men have rights, all men have rights, not just some men. The source of the moral principle about rights which we recognize is, indeed, based on facts of the rational faculty, but we don't need to re-justify the concept of rights for every man at every stage, with reference to rationality.

In addition, mentally retarded people are not completely lacking in a rational faculty, they just have a seriously hampered rational faculty. A person who is asleep is not fully exercising his rational faculty, and a typical Kantian evader is exercising even less of his rational faculty, and yet such people aren't meat-objects waiting to be claimed as property and used for cattle feed. Same with people in a coma or people with Alzheimer's. See Don Watkins article on broken units.

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As a nurse (now retired), I had extensive experience with just such a patient, who was cared for in the home. The parents gave loving care to the child, and were financially able to hire a nurse to care for the child during the day, but it became increasingly difficult as the boy grew (as stunted as his growth was overall). He didn't live past his teen years (as is usually the case). Like this couple's "pillow child", the boy was included in family activities, when he was well enough to do so, though they had to be extremely careful about having him around anyone with so much as the sniffles.

I have no patience fo those who make easy judgments about parents like this couple. They have no conception of what is involved in the constant care of such a child, yet they stand and pontificate against anything that would make such care easier to provide. What choices would be left to parents who could no longer care for their child because they simply cannot physically do the job? They could send the child to some facility where strangers who, however kind and competent, will never give the care that a loving family can give. There are parents who do not give loving care, of course. In such a case, the patient would be better off under professional care. In most such cases, the state pays at least some of the cost--that is, we all end up paying for the care of these patients. As long as the family is willing and able to do the job, it is none of the state's business. The only way it would become the business of the authorities is if there was documented abuse of the helpless one involved.

(That last paragraph is a mess, but I don't have more time to do anything about it. I hope it makes sense.)

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Actually, rights are a political concept, the means of subordinating society to moral law. They are recognized at the conceptual level, for example "man's rights", and not the concrete level "the rights of these particular individuals", so in a society that recognized that men have rights, all men have rights, not just some men. The source of the moral principle about rights which we recognize is, indeed, based on facts of the rational faculty, but we don't need to re-justify the concept of rights for every man at every stage, with reference to rationality.

In addition, mentally retarded people are not completely lacking in a rational faculty, they just have a seriously hampered rational faculty. A person who is asleep is not fully exercising his rational faculty, and a typical Kantian evader is exercising even less of his rational faculty, and yet such people aren't meat-objects waiting to be claimed as property and used for cattle feed. Same with people in a coma or people with Alzheimer's. See Don Watkins article on broken units.

David,

I don't agree with your first paragraph. I think our recognition on the concrete level that each man (and thus men) must have rights leads to our recognition thereof on a conceptual level, so there's nothing special about recognizing it on a conceptual level than then makes it still applicable when the concrete characteristic that led to the concept (rationality) is gone in an individual. Please clarify, if possible.

As for your second paragraph - the examples you gave aren't broken units, because in every case, you're talking about a "rational animal", i.e., an animal with rationality as its primary virtue (objectively). A sleeping Kantian is still a rational animal, just one evading his rational faculty. A kid without a brain, however, literally has no rational faculty. I think a retarded person also lacks the requisite rational faculty to escape being a broken unit in the sense of "rational". (I believe I read that the girl in question stopped developing mentally at the age of 3 months, but I'm not positive.)

I don't see how you can agree with the article (thanks for an excellent article, btw) and maintain your point, since the article says:

A brainless baby, on the other hand, has no rights, because rights follow from the characteristic which, in him, is broken, i.e., non-existent – a rational faculty.

I have some more comments on the issue, but I'll hold off for now.

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I don't see how you can agree with the article (thanks for an excellent article, btw) and maintain your point, since the article says:
Mentally retarded people aren't brainless: that's one essential difference. Notice that my comments were a response to Stillremains' claim that mentally handicapped people have no rights, and that is just plain wrong. Popular news outlets are frequently unreliable when it comes to accurately representing complex scientific fact, so I have no way to judge whether the child has a rational faculty from a scientifico-medical perspective. (Note that static encephalopathy isn't the same as anencephaly, iniencephaly, hydranencephaly or hydrocephalus -- it's a generic description like "gastrointestinal disorder", and is also used to name Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and cerebral palsy). I'm glad that you see how a sleeping person isn't a broken unit, though sad that you think I was arguing that they are.

I like Don's article, but I disagree with him on the brainless-rights issue (from a medical perspective, I think it's a purely academic disagreement). The basis of the disagreement is this. A moral life is one where choices are "conceptual" in nature, that is, are principled. Rights are a political concept, the means of subordinating society to moral law. I'm pretty sure Don and I agree on these two points (since he has argued for the "moral principle" POV here a number of times, and the latter is from Rand almost verbatim). As a political concept in a society governed by law, rights must be stated in terms of objective principle: thus, man has rights, not rational beings have rights. We don't have to administer an IQ test to a being in order to determine whether it has rights, we have to make the simple determination "Is that a man?", and you can't use the "I thought he was irrational" defense in a trial.

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Mentally retarded people aren't brainless: that's one essential difference. Notice that my comments were a response to Stillremains' claim that mentally handicapped people have no rights, and that is just plain wrong. Popular news outlets are frequently unreliable when it comes to accurately representing complex scientific fact, so I have no way to judge whether the child has a rational faculty from a scientifico-medical perspective. (Note that static encephalopathy isn't the same as anencephaly, iniencephaly, hydranencephaly or hydrocephalus -- it's a generic description like "gastrointestinal disorder", and is also used to name Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and cerebral palsy). I'm glad that you see how a sleeping person isn't a broken unit, though sad that you think I was arguing that they are.

I didn't think you were arguing that they were broken units, but you'll just have to trust me on that, because I see now I said several irrelevant things that would indicate otherwise. I guess I goofed.

Anyway, you and I disagree on what constitutes a rational faculty. To me, the girl in question pretty clearly lacks one, even from my hazy media-based understanding of her condition. But an otherwise normal person with a low IQ, I think, would have one. So I got to thinking if there's a good way to determine whether or not someone has a rational faculty. For practical purposes, it would seem to make sense to say someone doesn't have one if they can't communicate. But I think philosohpically, the solution is also simply the answer to the question, "Can the person use language?" See below:

Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts in to the mental equivalent of concretes. Language is the exclusive domain and tool of concepts.

Without language, one couldn't use concepts, and hence wouldn't have a functioning rational faculty. Let me know what you think about that.

As a political concept in a society governed by law, rights must be stated in terms of objective principle: thus, man has rights, not rational beings have rights. We don't have to administer an IQ test to a being in order to determine whether it has rights, we have to make the simple determination "Is that a man?", and you can't use the "I thought he was irrational" defense in a trial.

I agree with you and Don Watkins up to this point. I don't understand why 'man' makes the statement an 'objective principle', when 'rational beings' does not. I think it works just as well to use 'man', in context. But if rational animals from another solar system wanted to live among us, in my understanding, we'd need to revert to 'rational beings.' Anyway, using 'man' works, but I don't think broken units still count as unqualified units of whatever they are. A 'broken table' is a broken table, and it can't be said to be a 'table' - not in applied use, such as one person saying, "Is there a table I can use" and the other saying "I have a table," which is missing a leg. So, the girl counts in some respect as 'man without rational faculty,' and thus isn't subject to the rights of 'man'.

On the same line of thinking, I think someone who pleads insanity in a trial should automatically lose their rights. Then, they could be disposed of by society in whatever way makes sense - perhaps in an asylum. If someone is insane enough to commit a serious crime, it's not safe for them to be out and about. Of course, under my criterion for 'rational faculty,' someone would have to have pretty severely lost it to count as insane, and not simply have lapsed in rational thought (as a Kantian does).

I still have some other concerns, but I want to get these issues out of the way first.

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To me, the girl in question pretty clearly lacks one, even from my hazy media-based understanding of her condition.
It is pretty clear to me that you cannot reasonably reach a concrete conclusion based on the evidence presented in that article. This is a scientific question which cannot be judged based on measured sound bites in the popular press. You cannot judge whether a person in a coma lacks a rational faculty from behavioral evidence, so I don't know what your basis for such certainty is. But let's move on to the bigger issue.
So I got to thinking if there's a good way to determine whether or not someone has a rational faculty. For practical purposes, it would seem to make sense to say someone doesn't have one if they can't communicate.
I'll start by objecting that "communicate" is a bit vague, and quasi-socialist (huh??). Have I communicated my point to you? Perhaps you have in mind a particular definition of "communication" which doesn't involve a relationship between two or more beings. I think I'd like that definition to include some notion of "intention", so that male plants do not "communicate" with female plants, and a cheetah being accidentally uncovered while stalking it's prey doesn't constitute "communication" by the cheetah. I think the best bet is to consider the issue in terms of language, but even then I don't think that solves the problem. Now finally, when you're considering this from a practical point of view, there are huge problems in stating laws (which protect rights) if you were to say, for example, that a being which has does not have language and which has not already been claimed and put to productive use by others can be claimed as property.
Without language, one couldn't use concepts, and hence wouldn't have a functioning rational faculty. Let me know what you think about that.
The problem I see here seems to stem from conflation of the actual and the potential. Let's take a normal human child, which is born without language and therefore born without concepts. The child will learn a language, but how? One aspect of the rational faculty is the capacity to form concepts, by reasoning. If you declare that a child has no rational faculty until it has learned language (at least the basics), by what means does the child learn language? In addition, by reducing rationality to having language (and tying rights directly to the rational faculty), you are saying that infants below a year and some old have no rights. This may well be what you are saying, but I need to know whether that's your position. And finally, you run the risk of elevating the self-evidently false to the status of an axiom (self evident to those who know these facts, which are not totally thick on the ground). Namely, many people lead reasonable lives without language. Before the advent of sign languages about 300 years ago, deaf people usually had no language (even now this is common in backwards places), and there are functioning aphasics who have lost their language but can still lead okay lives. By your definition, these people would be indistinguishable from cows, and could be taken as property. I can't argue that your definition is self-contradictory, but at least it does lead to what I think is an absurd result.

The "rational faculty" is a higher abstraction, which has a number of aspects. Concepts are a very important aspect and language is important for concepts, but that's not all there is to rationality. For one thing, sentences are not concepts but a vast amount of human cognition is based on combining concepts into sentences. And apart from language issues, rights have to do with the fact that man has volition, that his actions are not pre-determined and automatic.

I don't understand why 'man' makes the statement an 'objective principle', when 'rational beings' does not. I think it works just as well to use 'man', in context.
Remember that we're seeking an objective principle, one that any person can grasp and follow without having highly specialized training or buying assumptions that they don't accept. One example of the problem of stating rights in terms of rationality is that some people (I'll omit measurement) hold that Platonists and Kantians are irrational, from which it follows that they could be shot on sight (hmmmm, I don't know if that's a good result or a bad one); your definition of rational would make babies possible food crops; a definition of "rational" might, at the hands of the tree-hugger animal-rights fascists, include all animals. But the referent of "man" is not problematic.
So, the girl counts in some respect as 'man without rational faculty,' and thus isn't subject to the rights of 'man'.

On the same line of thinking, I think someone who pleads insanity in a trial should automatically lose their rights.

That's an interesting juxtaposition. Does the part "counts in some respects" do this for you? That is, a partial lack of rational faculty is sufficient, so a man's rights stem from having a complete and fully functional rational faculty? And therefore, if you don't have a complete and fully functional rational faculty, then you have no rights?

(Let me clarify one legal point, so that you don't stick your foot in the bear trap. "Pleading insanity" refers to a variety of not-guilty plea, and "pleading" means "arguing". Our legal system is based on the premise that an objective body will consider all of the evidence and reach a conclusion that may or may not lead to a punishment. You are basically saying that arguing insanity and losing the argument should be an additional crime, which is a corruption of how rational legal systems work. If you are acquitted of a crime based on the insanity defense, you may still lose your rights, depending on the technical question whether or not the person is still dangerous and poses a threat to society).

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It is pretty clear to me that you cannot reasonably reach a concrete conclusion based on the evidence presented in that article. This is a scientific question which cannot be judged based on measured sound bites in the popular press. You cannot judge whether a person in a coma lacks a rational faculty from behavioral evidence, so I don't know what your basis for such certainty is. But let's move on to the bigger issue.

What I am proposing in my post is that, perhaps, it can be concluded that someone must have a linguistic faculty in order to have a rational faculty, since language is the medium of concepts. What I am assuming to be true is that the girl has no functioning linguistic faculty, because I believe I read that her brain stopped developing at 3 months (and thus her linguistic faculty stopped developing, i.e. it stopped functioning). So that's the basis for my "certainty" (which is what I was trying to make clear with the rest of my post).

I'll start by objecting that "communicate" is a bit vague, and quasi-socialist (huh??). Have I communicated my point to you? Perhaps you have in mind a particular definition of "communication" which doesn't involve a relationship between two or more beings. I think I'd like that definition to include some notion of "intention", so that male plants do not "communicate" with female plants, and a cheetah being accidentally uncovered while stalking it's prey doesn't constitute "communication" by the cheetah.

I was just trying to point out that if a given mentally handicapped person cannot speak (or "communicate"), they probably do not have a linguistic faculty, and thus probably do not have a rational faculty, if my little theory turns out to be true. Of course, in lots of cases people cannot speak or even communicate at all, but they do have linguistic faculties. So, that's just a guess, not an objective evaluation of whether or not someone has a linguistic/rational faculty. What I meant by "practical" was "snap-judgement guess that is likely accurate in context", which is a misuse of practical. But I wasn't trying to make a philosophical point here at all, I just said that as an offhanded prelude to the objective criteria I was looking for--whether or not someone can use language.

I think the best bet is to consider the issue in terms of language, but even then I don't think that solves the problem. Now finally, when you're considering this from a practical point of view, there are huge problems in stating laws (which protect rights) if you were to say, for example, that a being which has does not have language and which has not already been claimed and put to productive use by others can be claimed as property.The problem I see here seems to stem from conflation of the actual and the potential. Let's take a normal human child, which is born without language and therefore born without concepts. The child will learn a language, but how? One aspect of the rational faculty is the capacity to form concepts, by reasoning. If you declare that a child has no rational faculty until it has learned language (at least the basics), by what means does the child learn language? In addition, by reducing rationality to having language (and tying rights directly to the rational faculty), you are saying that infants below a year and some old have no rights. This may well be what you are saying, but I need to know whether that's your position.

An infant has a rational faculty and a linguistic faculty, both in developmental stages, from what I understand. They cannot exercise either of them qua rational faculty/linguistic faculty. So, in my thinking, infants - and even children to a certain point - don't have rights. If I have a misconception of the source of rights, let me know, but as I've stated before, I think political rights are defined and implemented selfishly, by rational men, and there's no reason for them to apply to entities which are not rational, i.e. infants. Infants should be considered property of whoever takes care of them first (usually, the parents) until the child is old enough to have its own rights--just as unused land is the property of whoever uses it first, and keeps using it (i.e. does not abandon it). People establish who has power of attorney over them in case they lose their ability to make choices--such as if they go into a coma. Then the person becomes, for all intents and purposes, the "property" of the person with power of attorney.

And finally, you run the risk of elevating the self-evidently false to the status of an axiom (self evident to those who know these facts, which are not totally thick on the ground). Namely, many people lead reasonable lives without language. Before the advent of sign languages about 300 years ago, deaf people usually had no language (even now this is common in backwards places), and there are functioning aphasics who have lost their language but can still lead okay lives. By your definition, these people would be indistinguishable from cows, and could be taken as property. I can't argue that your definition is self-contradictory, but at least it does lead to what I think is an absurd result.

My understanding is that someone who doesn't learn language can't think. I've heard of a girl who was kept in a closet and completely isolated until she was 16 or something like that, and I've heard that she was essentially retarded--which I understand to mean, in this case, lacking rational faculty, as opposed to just not having some minimum IQ. My supposition is that if someone is completely deaf (and has always been deaf, and has not been exposed to writing) and they are able to think, they're able to use concepts, and have their own functioning "language" to handle them. I understand that people can lose some aspects of language and still think - aphasics, for example. If someone can lose all of their language and they can still exercise their rational faculty, then the idea that I'm suggesting, which was hinted at in the passage I quoted but not said exlicitly, is wrong - the idea that a linguistic faculty is necessary for forming concepts and thus having a functioning rational faculty. I'm sure you can clear some of this up. :D

The "rational faculty" is a higher abstraction, which has a number of aspects. Concepts are a very important aspect and language is important for concepts, but that's not all there is to rationality. For one thing, sentences are not concepts but a vast amount of human cognition is based on combining concepts into sentences.

In my view, having a rational faculty is all or nothing. You have a working rational faculty--or you don't have one, or you have one that doesn't completely work, either of which would make you irrational. So what I'm wondering is simply, can you have a rational faculty without having a linguistic faculty? (In either case, I mean either developmental or completely developed.)

And apart from language issues, rights have to do with the fact that man has volition, that his actions are not pre-determined and automatic.Remember that we're seeking an objective principle, one that any person can grasp and follow without having highly specialized training or buying assumptions that they don't accept. One example of the problem of stating rights in terms of rationality is that some people (I'll omit measurement) hold that Platonists and Kantians are irrational, from which it follows that they could be shot on sight (hmmmm, I don't know if that's a good result or a bad one); your definition of rational would make babies possible food crops; a definition of "rational" might, at the hands of the tree-hugger animal-rights fascists, include all animals. But the referent of "man" is not problematic.

To me, what has rights is a "man," defined as a "rational animal," which means "an animal having a functioning rational faculty,"--regardless of whether he chooses to be rational or irrational. So a Kantian gets rights, but a person who is retarded (actually missing requisite brain parts, not simply of low IQ) or an animal doesn't. To me, the referent of "man" is not problematic--with the understanding that a person without a rational faculty is a broken man (a broken unit), and doesn't get rights.

That's an interesting juxtaposition. Does the part "counts in some respects" do this for you? That is, a partial lack of rational faculty is sufficient, so a man's rights stem from having a complete and fully functional rational faculty? And therefore, if you don't have a complete and fully functional rational faculty, then you have no rights?

I agree with all of this (it is what I meant), except for your first sentence. By "counts in some respects" I was just being sloppy; I was trying to say "qualifies" (the girl qualifies as a man without rational faculty); the "in some respects" just meant that while she qualifies in this context, I don't think she's a man in the having-a-penis sense. :worry:

(Let me clarify one legal point, so that you don't stick your foot in the bear trap. "Pleading insanity" refers to a variety of not-guilty plea, and "pleading" means "arguing". Our legal system is based on the premise that an objective body will consider all of the evidence and reach a conclusion that may or may not lead to a punishment. You are basically saying that arguing insanity and losing the argument should be an additional crime, which is a corruption of how rational legal systems work. If you are acquitted of a crime based on the insanity defense, you may still lose your rights, depending on the technical question whether or not the person is still dangerous and poses a threat to society).

I'm not saying that arguing insanity and losing the argument would be an additional crime - just that you'd lose your rights if you were to win the argument. Because having rights is based on having a functioning rational faculty, and presumably, someone who is insane does not have that. Someone who simply chooses not to exercise their rational faculty--this counts for all criminals, really--doesn't have an excuse, and they get punished for whatever they've done. By the way, I've changed my mind that the state should just put away someone who has successfully pleaded insanity; as with the person who goes into a coma, the preson who is insane should be under the purview of whoever has power of attorney over them. But that person should be required to put the insane person in an asylum or something if they are dangerous, just as very dangerous dogs must be kept in kennels.

By the way, since you started pointing out the holes in my boat (i.e. the absurd results), I'll stop holding off on doing the same for you. :D

The basic principle should be this: act in whatever manner best advances the child's life.

So parents have some duty to take care of children? This particular entity has a positive right to be fed, to be cared for, etc., no matter how much of a sacrifice this is to the parents? Even if it isn't in their self-interest--for example, if they don't want the child? (You may very well answer "yes" to this. I think we may have conflicting views on the "rights" of children, and so forth. It's a complicated topic, which you've probably thought through more thoroughly than me - which also is probably true for mostly everything I've said in this post - which is why I'm looking forward to your response :D )

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Infants should be considered property of whoever takes care of them first (usually, the parents) until the child is old enough to have its own rights--just as unused land is the property of whoever uses it first, and keeps using it (i.e. does not abandon it). People establish who has power of attorney over them in case they lose their ability to make choices--such as if they go into a coma. Then the person becomes, for all intents and purposes, the "property" of the person with power of attorney.

We've touched on this issue before in other threads, and I'm going to have to side with David on this one. Firstly, the exercise of power of attorney does not turn someone in a coma into property any more than it turns a CEO who's on vacation and having his business manager handle some sales into property. Power of attorney means that you are empowered to exercise the rights of the person on their behalf: in a philosophy-of-law sense it simply derives from the fact that they have rights and would be impossible if they were, in fact, property and without rights of their own. You can't logically derive something from something else that doesn't exist.

Babies and the comatose have the same theoretical rights as other people, the only difference is that someone else has to exercise those rights on their behalf. Now, I don't think that they have a right to a thing (material support) any more than upright, walking-around people do, however your right to exercise their rights depends on whether or not you are providing that material support. Therefore, you don't have to support your children, but if you don't, they are fully entitled to have the state step in and give custody of them to someone that will.

The case for the permanently comatose is slightly different; their power-of-attorney descends on the people supposed by the law to know what the comatose person might want. This is because children are assumed to want to continue living (a good assumption!) whereas a comatose person might not want that at all.

Even prisoners and the criminally insane have rights, which is why it is NOT right to put prisoners into forced-labor camps or sell their organs without their consent. They have simply been put into a situation where the state can exercise their rights on their behalf because they have failed so egregiously at doing so on their own recognizance.

I think you'd have fewer problems if you'd focus more on the practical results and ramifications of your ideas (i.e. look at reality) rather than trying to rationalistically derive them from principles that operate in specific context. In the look-at-reality approach, it's much easier to say "okay, my ideas would allow the mass-murder of small children--where's the flaw here?", wheras if you just move ideas around in your head without tying them to anything, you may forget significant characteristics of the thing you are dealing with. Remember, after all, that the moral is the practical.

Parents DO have an obligation to care for their children.

"Obligation" and "duty" are not the same thing.

Edited by JMeganSnow
Added "prisoners" paragraph.
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Well, Jennifer has nicely addressed the children as chattel question, so I'll focus on some cognitive issues.

I was just trying to point out that if a given mentally handicapped person cannot speak (or "communicate"), they probably do not have a linguistic faculty, and thus probably do not have a rational faculty, if my little theory turns out to be true.
What is the basis for the probability claim? There are a lot of "probably true" statements, like "if it's a chordate, it probably has two eyes" or "if it's a human, it can probably see colors", but these aren't unexceptional statements. It's my opinion that is a person cannot speak, it is at best possible that the person has no language faculty. This is basically a numbers question, and in claiming that this is probable, you're claiming that it's usually the case, which means it's true in at least the majority of cases. So I'm looking to see the evidence that supports this strong claim.

It would help if I had a better idea what you think a "faculty" is.

My understanding is that someone who doesn't learn language can't think. I've heard of a girl who was kept in a closet and completely isolated until she was 16 or something like that, and I've heard that she was essentially retarded--which I understand to mean, in this case, lacking rational faculty, as opposed to just not having some minimum IQ.
Probably Genie. First, being retarded doesn't mean "unable to think" or "lacking a rational faculty". Anencephaly does mean you have no rational faculty. As far as I know, all people classified as mentally retarded do have a rational faculty. Genie makes an interesting point as far as this argument goes, that while she did not learn language the normal way, and therefore by your claim "lacked a rational and linguistic faculty", after her release from the attic, she did learn language and moved on in life (as best we know: she disappeared into the woodwork) though because of her abused childhood she seems to have been a bit screwed up. This brings me back to the "faculty" question. If a person has no rational faculty, that means they have no capacity for reasoning, now or ever (barring surgical implantation, which we can't do); a person with "no language faculty" could not possibly ever learn language (like dogs and monkeys, for instance). But Genie had both faculties.

I'll go out on a limb and say that the only people with no rational faculty are anencaphalic infants in the few hours or days before they die, and people with a destroyed brain, like Terry Schiavo. We don't have the relevant medical evidence about the brain of this child, so unless you've got a copy of the medical records, it's pointless to speculate.

Now this:

My supposition is that if someone is completely deaf (and has always been deaf, and has not been exposed to writing) and they are able to think, they're able to use concepts, and have their own functioning "language" to handle them.
Not an unfamiliar idea, also not true. This is the "mentalese" hypothesis, that somehow we are all born knowing an internal private language "mentalese", and then in the course of normal language acquisition, we forget this language and learn "real language". There's no evidence for such a thing.
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I know "obligation" and "duty" are not the same thing, but he seemed to me to be using "duty" as a synonym for "obligation."

You may be right, but I'd be very hesitant in making this assumption: "duty" means (in effect) that if you don't support your children the state can put you into a forced-labor camp and MAKE you support your children, whereas "obligation" means that the state can simply take your children away from you if you don't support them.

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I understand what you mean David, and let me clarify, because I didn't mean that they don't have rights at all. I meant that they cannot discern what their rights are or that they are being violated. Ayn Rand addressed this same issue in "Ayn Rand, the best of her Q&A". She is asked if mentally retarded people have rights. Her answer is "no". She then explains that the person has the right to be protected and should always be treated as a child.

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I've likely missed out on some of the nuances of individual rights. I'm just getting to the section of OPAR about government, so perhaps that will help. I'll let you all know if that does, and if my view (my understanding of the concept, which I admit is likely incorrect) changes, but for now, here it is, and it seems very solid and defensible to me.

To me, rights are the sole domain of rational animals (men) who are able to function qua men. Functioning qua man means using one's mind productively to achieve values, including both higher values and basic survival values, like food, clothing, and shelter. Rights are a political concept implemented in society because they are necessary for man to exist qua man in a social context. But that shouldn't divorce them from their root in practical necessity. See the following two quotes for background on this.

"Rights" are a moral concept--the convept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual's actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others--the concept that preseves 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.

The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A--and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right for him to act on his own free judgement, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being; nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man's rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.

Now, I don't believe children have rights, because a child is not a man qua man. It cannot use its mind, act on its own free judgement, and work for its values successfully. Children of a certian age can do some of these things, but at the point that they can do all of them, they are men, and we call them men, not children. This underlines my point that a child cannot be a man qua man, because then there'd be no need for the distinction "child" as we use it (we don't just use it to say "someone under 18 years old"; it means a lot more than that.)

Further evidence for this can be found in the following quote (all these, by the way, are in the Lexicon).

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 (or the unborn).

In the second sentence, Rand says rights pertain only to an actual being - and she means, an actual man - not a potential man. To me, that would include a child. Clearly she doesn't think so (she implies that a child has rights in the next sentence), but she doesn't explain why she doesn't think so.

JMeganSnow suggested that I have been rationalistically looking at things out of context of reality (and I take no offense to that suggestion), but I don't actually think my understanding poses any problems in this area (and I'd like to point out that I made the case that David's does, since if children must be cared for, they must be cared for by someone, even if it is in nobody's self-interest, and even if the parents shirk their responsibility/obligation to do so). If children didn't have rights, they wouldn't actually be mass murdered. And anyway, you're right that the moral is the practical, but whatever society deems "practical" is not necessarily the moral, and what is practical is pretty wide open (while what is moral isn't). I need to see a moral reason why children must be granted rights, not a "practical" one. Oh, and another thought: if children have full individual rights, a consequence would be that they could drink at any age. But that doesn't seem "practical," at least to almost all modern societies.

As for power of attorney. The person with power of attorney can dispose of the person they have power attorney over in any way they please, subject to the rules laid down before granting the power. It's a contractual relationship. I wouldn't say the person who is comatose is property of the other, but only that they are for all intents and purposes. It's kind of like when you agree to the license agreement on software you've purchased. Some of the conditions the comatose person hopefully will have laid down previously are going to be 1) exercise my rights; 2) make decisions that you believe to be in my own best interest; etc. The businessman/CEO analogy is different because the CEO is not granting the businessman authority over his own person. Of course, power of attorney doesn't apply to children in this way; it's not a contractual relationship.

To respond to David. About the probability thing, first. I'm saying that if a person doesn't ever develop the ability to communicate with language, they probably cannot use language at all, barring being deaf, or something like that. I mean in obvious cases, where there is a cognitive issue, as with the girl in question. Sorry I didn't say it more clearly before, but frankly, it's not important to my argument, so I didn't mean for it so be scrutinized in so much detail (I'll be more careful in the future). I certainly don't have any empirical evidence for this (it just makes sense), but if you think it doens't make sense, I'm pretty sure i'm just wrong. But again, it doesn't matter.

That was the basis for my speculation that the child doesn't have a rational faculty, which was the theory I was asking about, and which you've implicitly stated as being wrong in your last post. So we'll just throw that out for now. I still don't think the girl has rights, since she's a child.

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But a child develops a rational faculty way earlier than they fully mature physically. And even with this further distinction, it doesn't sound right to me to say that you can pretty much do whatever you want with a child; which would be the implication of your position. If I had children then I could freely torture them if I wanted to, and there would be no way for anyone else to do anything about that beyond boycotting me socially.

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But a child develops a rational faculty way earlier than they fully mature physically. And even with this further distinction, it doesn't sound right to me to say that you can pretty much do whatever you want with a child; which would be the implication of your position. If I had children then I could freely torture them if I wanted to, and there would be no way for anyone else to do anything about that beyond boycotting me socially.

DavidOdden asked me what a "faculty" is, and to answer his question and respond to you, I'd say it's what gives you the ability, or the potential ability, to perform a certain mental function (think rationally, use language, etc.), in the context of this discussion. See definitions 2 and 3 on dictionary.com.

That it doesn't "sound right" isn't a basis to argue concretely against my position; that's the same as saying it's not "practical." Worth considering, but not philosophically sound. Anyway, if you had children, would you torture them? Plus, from my limited observation, government social workers aren't very effective at saving children from abusive households--which leads me to conclude that the childrens' rights we do recognize now as a society are basically not enforced, except in extreme cases, or if the children are abandoned. They might have "rights" like education and welfare, but not protection from parental aggression.

Like I said, I think I'll come to accept childrens' rights when I see why, because if there is a concensus among Objectivists that they have them (at least people on this forum who I respect), the reason is probably there somewhere. But I'm still looking.

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Like I said, I think I'll come to accept childrens' rights when I see why, because if there is a concensus among Objectivists that they have them (at least people on this forum who I respect), the reason is probably there somewhere. But I'm still looking.

The right to life is properly bestowed not on the possession of consciousnes but on the capacity for it. When I go to sleep, I do not lose my right because I am no longer conscious. The same applies to children, the only major difference being the time before becoming conscious.

A necessity for the granting of derivitive rights(liberty,property), which is connected directly to conciousness, is that the possessor be able to respect the rights of others. When a childs consciousness develops to that point, they can be given these other rights. Prior to that point, the parents are reposible for their actions and welfare. I believe that this would be an implied contract created by bringing a child to term.

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DavidOdden asked me what a "faculty" is, and to answer his question and respond to you, I'd say it's what gives you the ability, or the potential ability, to perform a certain mental function (think rationally, use language, etc.), in the context of this discussion.
With the inclusion of potential, I agree with this definition of "faculty", and conclude furthermore that an infant has a rational faculty (except for anencepahlic infants). The post mortem evidence also supports the conclusion that Terry Schiavo had a rational faculty earlier in her live, but did not at the end.

I suggest that the problem here is not having established the basic cognitive foundation, so trying to see how it interacts with morality and politics to give us protection of rights is vastly too complicated, and therefore the discussion of rights should suspended until the "rationality" issue is resolved. For instance, you say "Now, I don't believe children have rights, because a child is not a man qua man. It cannot use its mind, act on its own free judgement, and work for its values successfully." I can't imagine what leads you to say this -- what facts lead you to that conclusion, and how to you respond to the facts that say otherwise? How do you explain the fact that I just got a very clever email from my 2nd grade grand-daughter, is she can;t use her mind successfully?

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Actually, rights are a political concept, the means of subordinating society to moral law. They are recognized at the conceptual level, for example "man's rights", and not the concrete level "the rights of these particular individuals", so in a society that recognized that men have rights, all men have rights, not just some men. The source of the moral principle about rights which we recognize is, indeed, based on facts of the rational faculty, but we don't need to re-justify the concept of rights for every man at every stage, with reference to rationality.

If you think all men should have rights, do you also argue that children of all ages should have the same rights?

Edited by BaseballGenius
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For instance, you say "Now, I don't believe children have rights, because a child is not a man qua man. It cannot use its mind, act on its own free judgement, and work for its values successfully." I can't imagine what leads you to say this -- what facts lead you to that conclusion, and how to you respond to the facts that say otherwise? How do you explain the fact that I just got a very clever email from my 2nd grade grand-daughter, is she can't use her mind successfully?

Well, a child certainly can do all those things, so perhaps it does make sense for children to have the same rights as adults. I accept that line of reasoning, so far.

But I can only accept this with two implicit conclusions, which would generally be considered at odds with the idea that children have rights.

1) All relationships are voluntary. A child chooses to live with his parents or run away - but if he chooses to live with his parents, he must accept whatever their terms are. Maybe this sounds silly at first, but there were many times when I disagreed with my parents growing up and they said, "As long as we're providing for you, you have to follow our rules." Likewise, the parents choose to raise the child, or to get rid of it (orphanage, abandonment, or whatever). Raising a child you don't want to raise is self-sacrificial and altruistic; I don't see how any conception of parents having a duty to raise their children can be reconciled with Objectivism. The child doesn't have a right to things, like food, any more than a man does. So, to sum up, a child has surrendered the rights a man has (to his parents), and never had the rights that moochers claim.

2) Under the same line of reasoning, the government has no responsibility to care for children who are abandoned, etc, just as it has no responsibility to care for a jobless 50-year-old.

I'm looking forward to your response to these. Anticipating a way out of this dilemma of sorts, perhaps you'll argue that children have rights qua children, that are different from the rights man have qua men. This, however, would have to be based on an understanding that rights come from more than simply having a rational faculty/volition, since adults and children share that characteristic.

P.S. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you - I'm enrolled in 7 classes for the time being and I've gotten really sick...

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