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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

On rights

The conflict between the idea that Man has an intrinsic right to free trade and the observation that virtually no man has ever been able to engage in most of the activities that are necessarily aspects of that supposed right got me thinking about the concept of rights.

Now, there is obviously a significant difference between the "human rights" asserted by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the supposedly unalienable rights laid out in the US Declaration of Independence. The former are entirely conditional and are subordinate to both national law, (namely, such limitations as are determined by law meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society) as well as the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

The supposedly self-evident rights of the Declaration of Independence are clearly nothing of the sort, in that they are observably wrong. All men are not created equal in any way, genetically, legally, or spiritually, and furthermore, these rights are totally contingent upon the Creator by whom they are endowed. Atheism and a number of theisms necessarily preclude the existence of these rights.

But in either case, it seems obvious to me that neither is a reasonable basis for any rights upon which a case for free trade, or many other human actions can be made. Therefore, I think it is necessary to go back and look at what is the definition of the rights of Man. It's not my purpose to consider all of the various 18th century theories about this, but rather to begin at the beginning, which is to say that in order to be coherent, consistent and materially relevant, a right must be something that a) applies to an individual, b) supersedes all other claims by all other parties, c) is consistent with observable human action in the real world.

So, for example, a claimed right to breath oxygen would potentially fit all of these categories, whereas the right to vote would not, since no one has ever observed a right to vote regardless of where they live or possess citizenship. A right to shelter cannot exist, since the competing right to property has historically taken precedent.

I propose, then, the following definitional metric. A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

What are the proposed rights that can fit within this metric? The right to life, clearly. The right to self-defense is equally apparent. The right to think, the right to believe, the right to speak, the right to eat, the right to void, and the right to sensory input are not only self-evident, but inherent to the being of Man. But do any of the other rights that we habitually assume to exist on the mere basis of the fact that they were historically asserted actually hold up from this perspective?

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104 Comments:

Blogger IM2L844 July 04, 2012 10:58 AM  

I predict the amorphous right to speak will be a sticking point in this thread.

Blogger Michael July 04, 2012 11:01 AM  

"The right to life, clearly. The right to self-defense is equally apparent. The right to think, the right to believe, the right to speak, the right to eat, the right to void, and the right to sensory input are not only self-evident, but inherent to the being of Man."

For any of the above rights to meaningfully exist, then the right to engage in certain economic activity must also exist. e.g. The right to life means little if you have no right to acquire food and water. But obviously it is not an unlimited right.

How about an alternative definition: an individual has a right to do *anything* that does not directly infringe the rights of another. Ok, that's not much of a definition ... but is is at least a bit more expansive that the above rights to bodily functions.

Blogger Michael July 04, 2012 11:04 AM  

Edit: what I'm getting at is that rights should start out as the largest possible list (rather than VD's very limited starting point) and then be whittled only as absolutely necessary to avoid infringing the rights of another.

You have a right to everything that does not harm another.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:04 AM  

The right to life means little if you have no right to acquire food and water. But obviously it is not an unlimited right

Then it is not a right. Intrinsic human rights must, by definition, be without limits.

Blogger Michael July 04, 2012 11:07 AM  

"Then it is not a right. Intrinsic human rights must, by definition, be without limits."

I fear the statists will love this, as it means there are no (significant) real rights, only privileges to be doled out.

Anonymous LES July 04, 2012 11:13 AM  

I think the Declaration of Independence should be read in the context of as to whom it was addressed. The phrase 'all men are created equal' could have just meant a rejection of hereditary aristocracy as opposed to the natural aristocracy that Jefferson did believe in.

Anonymous The Gray Man July 04, 2012 11:13 AM  

Libertarian non-aggression principle hogwash incoming in 5...4...3...

Anonymous Difster July 04, 2012 11:16 AM  

A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

I would change kill to use appropriate force against. That would of course include killing if necessary.

Blogger Nate July 04, 2012 11:17 AM  

I disagree with the assertion that because someone may not believe something it therefore is not applicable.

The bushman does not believe in gravity as modern physics describes... and yet he still cracks his head when he falls.

Thus this claim that because atheists don't believe in a creator, that rights cannot have come from said creator, is bunk.

As for the mental masturbation of coming up with an explanation that is compelling to atheists... that's also bunk. Any man with the will to dominate others will not be swayed by something as flimsy as human reason.

Waste of time.

Rights were granted by God. Government has no say over them.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:19 AM  

I fear the statists will love this, as it means there are no (significant) real rights, only privileges to be doled out.

We go where the logic takes us. And most statists oppose some of the rights already observed. But consider that if you are claiming a right to food and water, then obviously I would not only have the ability to walk into an expensive restaurant and demand feeding, but shoot the chef who refused to provide me with the lobster thermidor I require of him, as well as a bottle of Evian to wash it down.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:22 AM  

I disagree with the assertion that because someone may not believe something it therefore is not applicable.

I am merely pointing out that non-believers cannot credibly claim those Creator-endowed rights. They may still have them. The point is that they are contingent rights which do not exist sans a Creator. And, of course, we have to figure out what those specific rights are, it's not enough to simply assert that the Creator has endowed all of us with the right to be provided free chocolate.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:24 AM  

Rights were granted by God. Government has no say over them.

Correction: by definition, government has no say over the intrinsic rights of Man regardless of their source.

Anonymous TheExpat July 04, 2012 11:25 AM  

"The natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second, to liberty; third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can." -Samuel Adams

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." - Thomas Jefferson

So basically, Natural Law* and Negative Rights
(* Do all you have agreed to do. Do not encroach on other persons or their property.)

Anonymous David Of One July 04, 2012 11:25 AM  

Surely you are not cruising for consensus. It will be entertaining to watch this 'discussion' unfold with the ensuing run amok of some of the Ilk.

Anonymous Crispy July 04, 2012 11:27 AM  

All men ARE created equal: naked and helpless.

Anonymous vandelay July 04, 2012 11:30 AM  

"All men are not created equal in any way, genetically, legally, or spiritually,"

Can you explain how equality cannot be claimed spiritually? I'd always thought that it was only in the spiritual realm that equality could be legitimately claimed, given that we are all equally in need of forgiveness and redemption, and can equally attain those things.

Anonymous Noah B. July 04, 2012 11:36 AM  

If we are to add the constraint that one must be able to "legally" use force to preserve their rights, then those rights are clearly subject to the whims of lawmakers. Such an idea undermines the entire concept of rights.

While people are clearly not equal in every sense, I have always taken the fundamental meaning of the Declaration of Independence that people must be treated equally under the law. The most fundamental, underlying principle is that people should be free to do as they please, provided their actions do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others. The complex nature of the world we live in, along with our limited knowledge and intelligence, prevents us from rationally determining precisely where the limits of individual rights are. It is at this point that opinions diverge regarding where individual rights end and collective rights begin, and the most unscrupulous among us exploit this uncertainty to consolidate power and wealth for themselves and impose arbitrary limitations upon the rights of others.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:40 AM  

If we are to add the constraint that one must be able to "legally" use force to preserve their rights, then those rights are clearly subject to the whims of lawmakers. Such an idea undermines the entire concept of rights.

I agree, which is why we're not. Precisely the opposite, as a matter of fact. Hence the reference to "ideal terms".

Anonymous Josh July 04, 2012 11:41 AM  

If all men are created in the image of God, they are created equal in that respect.

Anonymous 445supermag July 04, 2012 11:41 AM  

All men are created equally...by some of the old in-out in-out.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 11:42 AM  

The most fundamental, underlying principle is that people should be free to do as they please, provided their actions do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others.

This principle has clearly failed as it permits the camel's nose to enter and thereby eradicate all rights.

Anonymous raggededge July 04, 2012 11:42 AM  

Are you asking for the definition of freedom?

Anonymous Crispy July 04, 2012 11:44 AM  

Seems to be a problem in the argumentation around these rights: conflation of the right to something and the right to have it provided by someone else.

Vox may have the right to eat the lobster thermidor that he owns, but not to require the restaurant owner to provide it for him.

If there is a right to life, and that seems to be mostly agreed, that right is not negated by the lack of a right to force the hospital to perform a heart transplant to save one's life.

My preference (and I'm insufficiently caffeinated to argue to Vox's standards) is exemplified by the chestnut: "your right to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins", or as Michael put it: "You have a right to everything that does not harm another."

Anonymous Noah B. July 04, 2012 11:46 AM  

"This principle has clearly failed as it permits the camel's nose to enter and thereby eradicate all rights."

It has failed because people have allowed it to fail. No idea, in itself, is ever going to protect rights. Rights must be protected with force.

Blogger Michael July 04, 2012 11:47 AM  

"This principle has clearly failed"

Is there some principle out there that won't fail in the face of relentless progressives/statists and an MPAI electorate?

Anonymous David Of One July 04, 2012 11:50 AM  

It would certainly depend on the definition and metric of the meaning of "Created". It would seem that "birth" or even "conception" doesn't rise to the intent or meaning of "Created".

It would seem that the men of more than 225 years ago spent considerable amounts of time thinking, discussing and debating the matters of Love, Life and Liberty. Moreover they were very much aware of the reasons for coming to "The New World". They likely were more learned than most of us nowadays in History and The Bible. The discussion was not a trivial pursuit as they were on the verge of nation building. The risk of their endeavor was profoundly personal in that they were aware of the risk to themselves, their families and friends ... so much so they pledged themselves to one another.

Anonymous TheExpat July 04, 2012 11:53 AM  

Seems to be a problem in the argumentation around these rights: conflation of the right to something and the right to have it provided by someone else.

This is just the difference between Positive Rights (the right to something) and Negative Rights (the right to not have something done to you or compelled of you). Of these, Negative Rights are the only true rights, as the ultimate freedom is the ability to 'opt out' of something.


However, the elephant in the room question is, if one is unable to exercise a right, does that right really exist in anything but the abstract? For example, does the average North Korean have any rights? We can say that they do, but do they really? In a sense, the only 'rights' they have are the right to choose whether to continue to live under the current system, or to attempt to escape it (possibly fatal) or overthrow it (most probably fatal). One could argue they possess only the ultimate right to 'opt out' (i.e., die), and it is just an issue of whether they want to exercise said right.

Anonymous Salt July 04, 2012 12:05 PM  

right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

Caveat: While recognizing that the other is equally so endowed.

Fixed it for ya.

Anonymous Zartan July 04, 2012 12:09 PM  

Perhaps we should make a distinction as the free software people have done with "Free as in beer" vs. "Free as in speech"

All men are created equal is true in the eyes of God, and when considered from the strictly political viewpoint can be argued as either a good or truth.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 12:19 PM  

This principle has clearly failed as it permits the camel's nose to enter and thereby eradicate all rights.

I think Michael is right, but I'll explain at a bit more length.

In physics, general rules have longer descriptions with more contributing factors (variables). E.g. Einstein's description of gravity is more complicated than Newton's, but it is also more correct.

I suspect that ethics will follow a similar rule of thumb. And like physics, I suspect the results of any logical calculations will be subject to interpretation and some basic level of uncertainty. E.g. We are 95%-98% confident that the defendant is guilty of rape, torture and murder, and therefore we sentence him to death.

If so, the camel's nose may enter the tent without invalidating the philosophical rule that the camel must remain outside. But the rule requires greater generality because it wasn't clear whether the nose could be allowed.

All of this is to say that I suspect we can sin due to a simple lack of knowledge, as well as action or negligence. But if you hold to mens rea, just ignore me.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 12:23 PM  

It has failed because people have allowed it to fail. No idea, in itself, is ever going to protect rights. Rights must be protected with force.

That's not the sense in which I meant it has failed. It is a failure because it cannot be precisely defined and therefore can neither be defended nor expected to survive. One can fail to defend a clearly defined border, but an undefined border cannot be defended because one cannot know when it has been violated.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 12:24 PM  

All men are created equal is true in the eyes of God, and when considered from the strictly political viewpoint can be argued as either a good or truth.

But this is not true. Even I, as a non-Calvinist, must acknowledge that some are created for destruction.

Blogger Vox July 04, 2012 12:26 PM  

Fixed it for ya.

No, the "fix" is unnecessary. The endowment or non-endowment of others with the same rights is totally irrelevant to the determination of whether the right has been violated by that party or not.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 12:26 PM  

Hmm, too disjoint in presentation there. To summarize:

To make the ethical decision in all possibilities, we must have all of the possible information, as well as the virtue to act according to the correct ethical decision. (Other factors may exist.)

It is impossible to formulate simple rules for behavior that also apply to all possibilities. We can only catch most possibilities with a rule like "do no harm" or similar.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 12:30 PM  

Last, I should emphasize that I'm not confident in my view here. I made it up myself, and I make a lot of mistakes. (Anyway, confidence in a probabilistic philosophy would be somewhat contradictory.)

Blogger Chelm Wiseman July 04, 2012 12:46 PM  

A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

So, under this definition a person who is starving can justly, morally steal food from someone who can afford to have their food stolen? Or does there have to be an active attempt to deny the right where simply the act of owning food when others are starving is OK, but staling someones food is morally wrong?

Anonymous Noah B. July 04, 2012 12:49 PM  

"That's not the sense in which I meant it has failed. It is a failure because it cannot be precisely defined and therefore can neither be defended nor expected to survive. One can fail to defend a clearly defined border, but an undefined border cannot be defended because one cannot know when it has been violated."

That's a fair analogy, and while an undefined border cannot reasonably be defended at its farthest outreach, it can be defended at some point known with some certainty to lie within that border. Similarly, in the mathematical world, inequalities prove themselves useful in a multitude of ways.

While I would love to have an exact definition of individual rights, I'm not optimistic that this will be developed any time soon. Thus, we should not discard principles that have proven themselves useful for centuries because they are not what we consider to be perfect.

Anonymous The other skeptic July 04, 2012 12:58 PM  

The things you find out when looking at a recent workshop on current solar activity

If something that would mean significant numbers of people will not survive is likely to happen, would the elites announce it or try to cover it up and try to ensure that they survive?

There is a significant amount of nonsense that floats around in popular culture.

Anonymous MikeH July 04, 2012 12:59 PM  

Everyone is entitled to their rights as granted by God. Hitler's right to speech, self-defense/preservation, beliefs etc has no more or less validity than mine. By that logic everyone is equal with respect to rights. The outcomes of one's life is not important. If one is bent on destruction and poison their rights are still valid and present.


If we deny liberties to those that are so bent on destruction, as a just society should do (you out there Corrine??) they will still have their rights because they cannot be separated from us as an individual without destruction to the individual.

Anonymous MikeH July 04, 2012 1:04 PM  

I would also change yor definition from those that are defensible to those that cannot be separated from the individual without harm to him.

Just because I do not kill atheists, muzzies, etc if they do not believe in Jesus as savior does not mean that I preserve my right to worship or believe in whatever I wish. I

Anonymous artie July 04, 2012 1:14 PM  

Vox wrote: A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.
The right to life, clearly.

Isn't that a contradiction in itself. When you kill the man, you deny his right to live. So there is no absolute right? Or is this only true in the abstract, but in the just and moral realm which we live in, they are possible?

Blogger Heuristics July 04, 2012 1:19 PM  

These are all concepts that come out of, or have very large relation to the (christian/greek) thoughts about natural law but I see no indication that there is an understanding for how these rights were developed. I would suggest first delving in to the concept of what is essentially human first as a starting point. Here questions such as: "what seperates a human soul from an animal or plant soul" can take place.

Anonymous Chris July 04, 2012 1:28 PM  

Without bringing God into the argument, it does not matter what rights we have. In a godless world, the only rights you have are the ones you keep by force or are granted to you by some benevolent government/authority that you choose to submit to. Without God, rights do not exist because why should I care about the rights of someone who doesn't have a gun when I do? In a godless world, you don't have the right to sustenance because your life is a biological reaction that could have just as easily not happened. But to God, you have the right to live and provide for yourself. Logic goes both ways in the rights argument and if you remove God-given from the description, those intrinsic rights vanish because we are nothing more than animals.

Anonymous Anonymous July 04, 2012 1:29 PM  

quote> "All men are not created equal in any way, genetically, legally, or spiritually, and furthermore, these rights are totally contingent upon the Creator by whom they are endowed."</quote

Vox, I think you're trying to trick some of us here.

All men are Created equal in that they have the same natural origin, ie the sex act, followed by conception, eventual birth and then a some later point death. They are also equal in their initial relationship to the Creator. They are sinners in need of a Savior. All men and women are equal at the foot of the Cross.

This does of course not mean that they are all equal in attributes. Some are stupid, fat and ugly, like me. Some are smart, good looking and wealthy like Vox. Our intrinsic worth in the eyes of the Creator however are equal. He simply Created each with different purposes in mind. see Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 where this principle is discussed in relation to the Church. One body many members, each with a different purpose.

The same for the human race. One human race, many members each different in appearance, ability and action. Yet all equally human.

That is what the Founders were referring too as "Created equal"

farmer Tom

Blogger Nate July 04, 2012 1:49 PM  

"Correction: by definition, government has no say over the intrinsic rights of Man regardless of their source."

All rights derive from property rights. A man owns himself. And thus the man has a right defend his own life... as it is his property.

This foundation answers all the questions.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 2:02 PM  

Then we can stop thinking. So tiring...

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 2:05 PM  

Better definition: God owns everything, so we should try to figure out how he wants us to treat his stuff.

Example application:

In Nate's philosophy, suicide is okay. In this philosophy, suicide is evil.

Anonymous LuxLibertas July 04, 2012 2:11 PM  

"This principle has clearly failed as it permits the camel's nose to enter and thereby eradicate all rights."

The principle does not permit the camel's nose to enter as that would infringe on your right to property. But if you invite the entire camel in to have a free lunch and give him joint ownership of the tent you can't get mad at the beast for redecorating the place.

Anonymous Salt July 04, 2012 2:12 PM  

But do any of the other rights that we habitually assume to exist on the mere basis of the fact that they were historically asserted actually hold up from this perspective?

Must one consider the source?

“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36 NIV

Blogger foxmarks July 04, 2012 2:15 PM  

I read the “created equal” part platonically. We are equal as human lives, human souls. We are equal as morally-capable beings, and to expressed this endowed moral agency, we each must be allowed the liberty of choice. That we are each dealt very different and unequal hands is a subsidiary issue.

I suspect Vox has implied a false premise in b) that a right must supersede all other claims. I say observable reality shows that many claims (all claims?) are in perpetual conflict. What society and government attempts to do is offer a framework for resolving the conflicts between valid claims of right.

Blogger Jackson Reeves July 04, 2012 2:18 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous Suomynona July 04, 2012 2:22 PM  

Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 12:26 PM
We can only catch most possibilities with a rule like "do no harm" or similar.


The rule then becomes subjective in that harm must not only be defined, but then determined to have been inflicted. Humans can be harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, economically, i.e., there are many ways to harm, some which are not easily measured and are subject to opinion. This brings up the concept of the slippery slope, the manner in which so many evils are slowly, insidiously introduced into one's life, or society in general - so successful precisely because the harm is not immediately perceivable. Also, how does one protect against the harm of unintended consequences?

One might then conclude that change is the sufficient and necessary factor in order for these types of unforeseeable harms to be manifested. For example, progressive ideology is nothing if it isn't pushing for changes from which harm may be inflicted upon the unsuspecting masses, and those that do suspect cannot make a case for an as yet imperceptible harm.

Anonymous Freddy July 04, 2012 2:44 PM  

The free trade concept found in North's worldview is obviously rooted in his eschatology, postmillenialsim. The right to freely trade does make sense given the gospel's global influence as "permeates the whole loaf...," man's hearts and the nations.

Now, given the dispensational premillenial view of the future this could only happen in the millenial reign of Christ.

Ahh, but those pesky time conditioned texts of Matt. 24:34 and the Fall of Jerusalem can surely call into question a futurists view of "Armagadon."

What would trade be like if Christ ruled the nations?

Anonymous CrisisEraDynamo July 04, 2012 2:51 PM  

How would you answer the creator of this political cartoon lampooning libertarian thought?

Anonymous Suomynona July 04, 2012 2:52 PM  

Vox, would you say that illegal immigration has infringed on the rights of the American people, both collectively and as individuals? I consider diversity is an insidious infringement of the rights of an individual, forcing him to give up his native culture and surroundings, and accept one that is foreign and unfamiliar, whether he likes it or not.

Anonymous VD July 04, 2012 2:59 PM  

What society and government attempts to do is offer a framework for resolving the conflicts between valid claims of right.

Thus superseding and invalidating all of them.

Anonymous patrick kelly July 04, 2012 2:59 PM  

"How would you answer the creator of this political cartoon lampooning libertarian thought?"

Seriously? Why would anyone be motivated to answer a thin straw man pulled out of an ignorant ass?

Anonymous The other skeptic July 04, 2012 3:16 PM  


The right to life, clearly.


If you make a short-term bargain with the local authorities for an easier life, you might find that they do not agree that you have a right to life.

Anonymous Other Josh July 04, 2012 3:26 PM  

From a purely theological viewpoint, does man really have any rights before God? Can any of us say to God "God, You owe me ________! This is my right!"

No, I don't think so.

The good things that we have given from Him are gifts, are they not? Our life is a gift. Our will and reason are gifts from Him.

So, in dealing with other men, the question really is "Do we have a right to defend the gifts that God has given us?" Are they truly inalienable?

Blogger W.LindsayWheeler July 04, 2012 3:33 PM  

This whole "rights of Man" talk is the figment of 18th century man and the so-called "Enlightenment". It is a false ideology.

The history of so-called "rights" comes from the study of Roman history, or from St. Paul, who demands his "right" to be tried in Rome. When St. Paul demands "his rights" it is the "right" that Roman Law conferred upon a Roman citizen.

The thinkers of the so-called "Enlightenment" uses this idea, created a so-called "Rights of Man" in order to attack, undermine and replace Roman Catholicism's hegemony and Christendom.

The "rights of man" are an elevation of the human over God.

The Declaration of Independence needs to be rejected altogether. "All men are not created equal" and Thomas Jefferson did not know "nature's laws and nature's God". It is a very flawed document.

And there is NO right to life, when God himself commanded the genocide of whole nations under the Hebrew sword, man, woman and child! If God is not a respector of "human rights", why should we?

You all need to drop all the concepts and ideology of the so-called "Enlightenment". It is anti-Christian, Atheistic claptrap.

Anonymous The other skeptic July 04, 2012 3:39 PM  

Does Chris Rock really believe in the right of African Americans to an independent country in North America

Has he thought it through? Maybe he just wants to be rid of all those troublesome African Americans ... you know, the ones he worries about being behind him.

Anonymous Samgar July 04, 2012 3:40 PM  

The Declaration was originally going to state Life, Liberty, and Property before Frankling offered the revisionto "pursuit of happiness." I think we have a stronger case if it had been left as it was. So I think Jefferson and most of the Founders would have agreed with Nate above: Property is the foundation. In this way, you can kill to defend your life, liberty and property.

Anonymous Stilicho July 04, 2012 4:06 PM  

This:
"The natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; second, to liberty; third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can." -Samuel Adams

"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." - Thomas Jefferson


As for man having any rights independent of his Creator,that is simply impossible.

Life, liberty, property are all rights "for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him."

The three are intertwined as well. Life is a prerequisite to all. Liberty and property are needed for the preservation of life. Liberty is required for the acquisition of property. Property is required to maintain liberty (although it may be viewed as a subset of liberty along with the right to defend the primary rights).

Blogger tz July 04, 2012 4:17 PM  

I think it begs the question if there is a hierarchy of rights or if one is bound to use the least violent response. If I deny you oxygen for a second? 15? Can you just move, or is the act of denial sufficient for REVENGE AFTER THE FACT - denying or abridging the right in the past - with no, trivial, or manimal damage gives you the right to kill me now?

I don't think so. I think you are looking for rights like axioms or postulates in mathematics. Not unlike other libertarians try to reduce all morality to property rights or collateral estoppel (their version of the golden rule).

I would start in Natural Law and it's traditions (and Lewis Abolition of Man). Rights would be created by God. Explore that part of the cosmos.

And I think there is a hierarchy - Life and by extension health and dignity (why rape is heinous), then liberty, freedom of will and action, then property, though orthodox judiasm notes you (or someone) acquires property by days of life, so a theft is stealing a bit of your life.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 4:41 PM  

Soumynona,

The rule then becomes subjective in that harm must not only be defined, but then determined to have been inflicted. Humans can be harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, economically, i.e., there are many ways to harm, some which are not easily measured and are subject to opinion.

I agree, and I'm glad you understand the implications of my theory. I think (as, say, a first-order approximation) that we could draw a line and say "On this side we judge by reason, and on this side we use a more appropriate human method, such as empathy."

The problem with emotional judgments (and other unreasoning types) in ethics is that they are easily manipulated. But this is really only a problem for large, heterogeneous populations. In this case, you would have to draw the line much farther from empathy and give reason a larger domain.

Anonymous Suomynona July 04, 2012 4:42 PM  

Property is the foundation. In this way, you can kill to defend your life, liberty and property.

Good luck fighting off the barbarians at the gate. If the US does not protect its borders and sovereignty, property rights will at some point become impossible to protect. An individual cannot oppose the effects of a government's lack of opposition to, or compliance with, the intervention of global and foreign powers that would destroy an individual's property rights.

What it comes down to is having the power to impose one's will with regards to one's life, and maintaining that power by whatever means necessary. If a greater power comes along, and that power is not aligned with your interests, you're pretty much screwed. The greater effort must therefore go towards assuring that no greater powers are permitted to usurp yours and that of your allies.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 5:00 PM  

This brings up the concept of the slippery slope, the manner in which so many evils are slowly, insidiously introduced into one's life, or society in general - so successful precisely because the harm is not immediately perceivable.

Perhaps contrary to your intention, this point merely reinforces my confidence in the theory because this is the nature of evil in reality. My theory (of imperfect knowledge and successive approximations) predicts that evil sneaks around the edges of our imperfect knowledge, understanding, character, et al. It's good for a theory to match reality!

Also, how does one protect against the harm of unintended consequences?

It's impossible by definition. Even inaction is a decision, and it has unintended consequences like any other decision. We can try to increase our knowledge and understanding and try to predict the future, but we're going to make bad calls sometimes. That's life.

But you can't take this as an excuse to stop thinking (and stop refining your approximations), because that virtually guarantees worse behavior in the future.

I should mention that I think the classical liberal approximations (life, liberty, property) aren't half bad as a starting point.

One might then conclude that change is the sufficient and necessary factor in order for these types of unforeseeable harms to be manifested. For example, progressive ideology is nothing if it isn't pushing for changes from which harm may be inflicted upon the unsuspecting masses, and those that do suspect cannot make a case for an as yet imperceptible harm.

True, but the full picture contains the opposing truth- that the world already has plenty of evil in it. We could cease all "progress" of any kind, everywhere (like the above example, doing nothing is a decision too) and Africa would still be a hellhole. Starvation and malnutrition would still be killing X number of people per day.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 5:13 PM  

The basis of my thinking is that there is no unified principle of ethics, only a series of events of which God arbitrarily approves or disapproves. So we can't reduce all decisions to a general rule ("do no harm", "life, liberty, property").

I'm all for the use of these tools to illuminate the problem. In physics you have a bunch of different principles and models from which you can derive answers mechanistically, but you can't (easily) remove the human element from solving a problem. I'm all for removing the human element (interpretation and such) as much as possible because we're prone to error (and because we can solve more problems that way).

But I don't believe we should be confident in perfect rules that rid us of the need to think about each problem separately.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 04, 2012 5:16 PM  

Last comment until at least tomorrow: philosophical consistency is like the consistency of a computer program. It's very useful, but it can't replace the operator.

Blogger foxmarks July 04, 2012 5:38 PM  

Not sure how it follows that mediation invalidates the conflicting claims. Conflicts will be resolved. The subsidiary argument, if inalienable rights do exist, is over the optimal form of mediation.

Maybe it is because I haven’t accepted the premise that “true rights” must not conflict.

If two men are adrift in a lifeboat with one PowerBar in the first-aid kit, both have a claim to the life-sustaining nourishment. How they agree (or subdue) to divide it is politics/government. But even if one kills the other, each man’s claim of right was valid.

Unless I am mistaking something, under the non-conflict premise the only valid rights would be obtained in Heaven or granted by G–d. I guess I can live with that, and its decedent, that all man can create are privileges.

Anonymous scoobius dubious July 04, 2012 5:50 PM  

"Intrinsic human rights must, by definition, be without limits."

I worry about using very strong words like "must" with respect to human affairs. Human life is not mathematics; when people say a thing like "must" about a human issue, there's a pretty fair chance they've left out something important. I'm reminded of Steve Sailer's frequent citation of all the evils which have proceeded from the Leninist maxim, "He who says A, must say B."

Not long ago I got into a lengthy, argumentative discussion with an irritating pseudo-intellectual, you know the type: smart enough to participate in a sophisticated discussion, but not smart enough to realize how much he didn't know, or hadn't thought through. He proposed a series of perfectly valid statements, each logically following from the last, to reach a conclusion. His logic was not flawed, but the sum total of his thesis was flat-out ridiculous on its face. Why? Because he had left too much out.

I try to keep it in mind that Plato's Republic is a series of very interesting and edifying speculative concepts, but as a piece of reasoning, it's ridiculously flimsy. Socrates can be stopped in the tracks of his reasoning at virtually any moment by simply saying, "Now hold on a minute, Socrates, I don't grant the premise, that simply isn't the whole story."

Anonymous FUBAR Nation (Ben) July 04, 2012 6:03 PM  

You cannot have any rights without a moral code, usually derived from religion, which lays out what is right and wrong. The problem is that there are numerous religions and consequently moral codes.

The problem is when you have multicultural societies because there is no agreement on what rights are. Which moral code is right, Christianity or Islam?

Anonymous E. PERLINE July 04, 2012 6:14 PM  

I read some very good observations here of what human rights should be, beginning with the chief blogger VD, himself.

But there's a right that's unsustainable, and will eventually do us in. Voters will vote for whatever gives them more public welfare, stimulus money, or moolah.

How does one deal with that one? Is universal voting a dream?

Anonymous RC July 04, 2012 6:37 PM  

"Is universal voting a dream?" - Perline

No, it's a nightmare, anathema to all Liberty and societal stability, a scourge on humanity.

Anonymous RC July 04, 2012 7:03 PM  

"What are the proposed rights that can fit within this metric? The right to life, clearly. The right to self-defense is equally apparent. The right to think, the right to believe, the right to speak, the right to eat, the right to void, and the right to sensory input are not only self-evident, but inherent to the being of Man." - VD

One only has the right to eat his own property or, absent property rights, the right to life would most assuredly be infringed. Property rights are essential to any existence superior to the animals.

Anonymous realmatt July 04, 2012 7:13 PM  


The problem is when you have multicultural societies because there is no agreement on what rights are. Which moral code is right, Christianity or Islam?


So a multi cultural society leads to problems that are almost impossible to solve without bloodshed?

Imagine that!

Anonymous TheExpat July 04, 2012 7:40 PM  

The problem is when you have multicultural societies because there is no agreement on what rights are. Which moral code is right, Christianity or Islam?

Common Law/Natural Law were developed for, or perhaps as a result of, multi cultural/religious societies, and worked precisely because they limited the law, and rights, to those specific areas where there was broad agreement between different cultures and religions.

"Do all that you have agreed to do. Do not encroach upon other people or their property."

Life, liberty, property, and the right to support and defend them in the best manner one can according to one's will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.


Regarding conflicts between claims/rights (i.e., the violation of others' rights in the defense of one's own), note that Common Law/Natural Law were not considered innate or forced onto people top-down; they were a voluntary social contract by which one gained said rights and the cooperation of others/society in defending them by first agreeing to respect the same rights of others. Each person had the right to 'opt out' - that is to say to live as an 'outlaw' if they so choose. However, by rejecting the social contract, one also forfeited any recognition of one's own rights, with all applicable consequences.

Anonymous A Possible Acquaintance to Lucy (snatcher), Charlie (snatchee), and Linus (snatchee's friend), and maybe even Klaatu July 04, 2012 8:36 PM  

Happy Dependence Day

Anonymous Rod Freeman July 04, 2012 8:37 PM  

Vox, if the right to shelter cannot exist due to property rights, on what basis can the right to eat exist? Food is property, is it not?

Anonymous zen0 July 04, 2012 9:30 PM  

I propose, then, the following definitional metric. A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

A baby, in the womb of a mother who desires an abortion can kill her.

Good luck with that on so many levels.

Anonymous cherub's revenge July 04, 2012 9:30 PM  

The right to life, clearly. The right to self-defense is equally apparent. The right to think, the right to believe, the right to speak, the right to eat, the right to void, and the right to sensory input are not only self-evident, but inherent to the being of Man.

What's the "right to void"?

Anonymous zen0 July 04, 2012 9:36 PM  

VD July 04, 2012 2:59 PM

What society and government attempts to do is offer a framework for resolving the conflicts between valid claims of right.

Thus superseding and invalidating all of them.


From nascent research on the subject it seems that the only constitution existent that does not have an escape or "notwithstanding" clause on rights is the American one.

Happy In Dependance day.

Anonymous zen0 July 04, 2012 9:44 PM  

What's the "right to void"?

Are you not a corporeal being?

Anonymous NortherHamlet July 04, 2012 9:48 PM  

You've misunderstood what equal rights pertain to, and though I disagree with using the language of rights, it's a shame you miss the complexity of such a discussion

Anonymous zen0 July 04, 2012 10:27 PM  

You who?

Anonymous cherub's revenge July 04, 2012 10:31 PM  

Are you not a corporeal being?

If you don't know, just wait like I am, until someone who does answers.

Anonymous Daniel July 04, 2012 10:39 PM  

These objections are laughably weak.

This "right to kill" is sound.

It is the essence of freedom.

Flip it on its head: if a man has no right to kill in his defense, or in the defense of those to whom his rights are an extension of his self-identity, if he has no right to kill his captor or his tormentor, no right to kill the one who would bend his will, no right to kill he who cut out his tongue - in essence no right to put his hands upon the boot before his face, and twist - then...that man does not exist as a free man. He has no choice to make, only a series of events to react to according to prescription.

If a man's purpose is not allowed to be greater than his pain, then he has no rights.

Anonymous zen0 July 04, 2012 10:45 PM  

cherub's revenge July 04, 2012 10:31 PM

Are you not a corporeal being?

If you don't know, just wait like I am, until someone who does answers.


But I already know. Are you being angelically obtuse?

Anonymous Moses July 04, 2012 11:36 PM  

If you stiff necks really want rights, then these rights will be withheld:
(sans a good intercessor and advocate)

1) He is the Lord and the God!
2) You do not have the right to any strange gods before Him.
3) You do not have the right to take His Name in vain.
4) You do not have the right to work on the 7th day.
5) You do not have the right to dishonour your father and mother.
6) You do not have the right to murder.
7) You do not have the right to adultery.
8) You do not have the right to steal.
9) You do not have the right to lie about your neighbor.
10) You do not have the right to covet your neighbor's wife or his ass.

Anonymous The other skeptic July 04, 2012 11:48 PM  

You have no right to your life when faced with random violence but vibrant people

Anonymous RichMan July 04, 2012 11:52 PM  

All these rights I have obeyed since childhood. What rights must I still not do?

Anonymous The other skeptic July 05, 2012 12:14 AM  

You have no right to a media that does not lie to you.

Anonymous Rod Freeman July 05, 2012 12:14 AM  

These objections are laughably weak.

This "right to kill" is sound.

It is the essence of freedom. <...>

If a man's purpose is not allowed to be greater than his pain, then he has no rights.


Absolutely.

Anonymous bob k. mando July 05, 2012 12:49 AM  

FUBAR Nation (Ben) July 04, 2012 6:03 PM
Which moral code is right, Christianity or Islam?



i think FUBAR here approaches the major weakness of your argument.



Vox July 04, 2012
I propose, then, the following definitional metric. A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.



define 'just'.

upon WHICH moral framework do you intend to build this edifice?

you had previously disqualified the Judeo-Christian God as a foundation for your 'perfectly rational' System of Rights. and now it appears that you have implicitly smuggled Him back into your foundational assumptions by tying your Rights to a ( which? ) moral code.

after all, a Utilitarian Materialist Atheist is hardly going to agree with you on what is or is not 'morally acceptable'.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer#Applied_ethics

additionally, we have the modern day British application of 'Law' in which a solitary old man who has suffered numerous incidents of robbery and vandalism attempts to defend himself INSIDE HIS HOUSE in the middle of night finding himself prosecuted for injuring teenaged goons who had broken in on him.

clearly, the people administering the Law in such a way ALREADY embrace a 'moral code' which is completely antithetical to your proposition that ANYTHING might be justifiably 'worth' killing over.

Anonymous Askim July 05, 2012 1:01 AM  

Here is a potential, albeit quirky, one (and please bear with me as it is one in the morning for me):

"A Right of Man is that which permits an individual to privately worship that which he believes created him."

From this the Right to Life, Self-Defence, Speech, Religion, Liberty, etc. would naturally stem.

Anonymous Outlaw X July 05, 2012 1:23 AM  

It's Idependence day. Do you know where you freedoms are?

Bohemian Dad
Activist Post

Someone recently asked us how they celebrate the Fourth of July in Cambodia, where we are spending this American Independence Day. It just goes to show that some people don't even know what they're celebrating anymore.

Here's a funny 'man on the street' segment from last year proving this point:


http://www.activistpost.com/2012/07/do-you-know-what-freedom-is.html

Blogger Jim, July 05, 2012 7:53 AM  

cherub: with regards to meaning of "to void"--widely used terminology amongst health care providers so they don't have to use more embarassing descriptive language.

But everyone "voids", most people do it in private but young un's have zero shame about doing it anywhere they feel like it, such as at the beach, playground, even at the dinner table--can't blme them really, it feels awesome. But when they get older they realize it is not socially acceptable to void in public, even though many of them still do, kinda gross to watch it, though lots of pervs enjoy watching it.

Many men talk freely about how many times a day they may void, but women rarely talk about it, even though we all know they do it too--I mean it is totally natural, nothing at all to be ashamed of. I know I would certainly be near the top of world record holders for how many times I have voided in a single day, not something I am necessarily proud of though.

Hope this helps you figure it out--and no, I am not talking about defecating, but I hesitate to use certain language in the comments on here as I don't want to soil Vox's blog.

Anonymous cherub's revenge July 05, 2012 9:30 AM  

-widely used terminology amongst health care providers so they don't have to use more embarassing descriptive language.

Thank you. I was only aware of the legal professions terme d'art for "right to void". Never knew the nurses had one as euphemism.

No thanks to zen0 for his obfuscation.

Blogger Aeoli Pera July 05, 2012 1:38 PM  

10) You do not have the right to covet your neighbor's wife or his ass.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anonymous E. PERLINE July 05, 2012 7:25 PM  

If it's natural for voters to vote for self-interest, rather than for the greater good, we might shed all temptation by having little to do with central government in the first place.

The states could pool money for mutual defense, and interstate matters, and a few other things, and the suppliers of these services could compete with one another for our business.

Wouldn't that be a bargain of bargains?

Anonymous Toby Temple July 06, 2012 1:24 AM  

Do we have the right to have rights?

Blogger Jim, July 06, 2012 8:46 AM  

Cherub: I was just having a little fun with this yesterday with my comments; not sure if you validated through other sources in the interim, but "to void" does mean to urinate, and not what my comments may have lead those in the dark to conclude. Just a minor attempt at humor, perhaps not a good one.

But yeah, nurses love using using it any chance they get and it always sounds kind of weird when they do.

Anonymous unger July 06, 2012 4:57 PM  

A right to shelter cannot exist, since the competing right to property has historically taken precedent.

So you admit the right to property. Good.

a right must be something that a) applies to an individual, b) supersedes all other claims by all other parties, c) is consistent with observable human action in the real world.

And the right to property fulfills those as well as they can be fulfilled. There is no society and no language that lacks the distinction between mine and thine. Whatever vapid words are uttered to the contrary, nobody in his personal conduct has ever behaved such that he indicated that he did not believe his personal property was a natural thing, not handed to him by the rest of society, or a leader, or an institution. (CSL makes this point in the very first chapter of 'Mere Christianity'.)

But if the thing is the transcendental right we claim it is, and you - all of you - really know it is, and daily proclaim it is in your own lives, even as you deny it here: piss on the State's prohibitions. That's all there is to it.

Anonymous unger July 06, 2012 9:50 PM  

I should also add, to W.LindsayWheeler: Sure, the Enlightenment atheists were trying (and failing) to derive purely secular rights. A lot of libertarians have tried to follow them, and ended up chasing their tails. The present trend, in my observation, is to do as you do and reject the whole concept of rights. (Protip: If you find yourself on the same philosophical side as militant atheists, you're probably heading in the wrong direction.) But that doesn't mean that there are no genuine interpersonal rights. If, for instance, God grants us stewardship over property (as I believe He did, quite clearly, such that even the most lost pagans are not wholly ignorant of the truth), He is surely free to stipulate (as I believe He did, also quite clearly) that we are not to interfere with what's been assigned to others. What would you call such grants, if not rights?

And if God revokes such stewardship, or hands it to others, that is one thing - if God really told the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites, then concern for Canaanite rights is silly on its face - but where is your evidence that God granted any such exemptions to the State, or more properly (since we are, in theory, a representative republic) to registered voters and their agents? Nowhere. It doesn't exist. And without it, protectionism cannot be anything but meddling and theft, no matter what 'public good' it claims to (or even genuinely does) serve.

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