Sunday, 6 March 2005

Natural rights

Jon Henke has an excellent post that I unfortunately don’t have the time to go into in detail. The issue is whether natural rights exist since they aren’t visible, and so forth. He makes, essentially, a utilitarian argument about rights—they exist because others agree that they exist. I’m not comfortable with this position because the “rights as social construct” concept leaves a lot of room for people to tamper with you for whatever reason they choose.

I’m an adherent to the natural rights view, but the only thing “natural” about them is that they create a moral case for the person whose rights are being violated to do whatever is necessary to secure them, including violence. Of course, there are trade-offs to be made. I live in Mississippi and there are certainly laws here (as with any state) that were cooked up by some tin-pot tyrant that have nothing to do with protecting anyone’s rights. They simply did it because they could. Is each of these worth fighting over? No.

I would like to say more, but time is short. Check out Jon’s post.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Jon Henke wrote @ Sun, 6 Mar 2005, 4:42 pm CST:
I’m not comfortable with this position because the “rights as social construct” concept leaves a lot of room for people to tamper with you for whatever reason they choose.
I'm not comfortable with that consequence, either, but that's not evidence. The existence of free will leaves me with the possibility that I could be murdered in my sleep. I don't like that consequence, but my dislike doesn't really impinge on the existence of free will.

That’s precisely what kept me in the Natural Rights column for so long. I was resistant to the idea of an amoral universe, because it would imply that, for instance, genocide is no more right or wrong than charity. And in my own personal moral system, that’s incorrect. Genocide is decidedly worse. But the universe is just matter and energy. And matter and energy don’t really give a damn.

One can only really determine the value of a moral system by evaluating its principles against its desired outcome. In economic terms, “Value of output divided by value of input is the only way to measure efficiency”. A moral system can be self-consistent and effective, but that only depends on the desired outcome of said moral system.

All that to say, “If I don’t believe in this, there will be bad consequences” is not empirical evidence. It’s faith.

[at this point, I realized I was rambling….]



I agree that the negative consequences aren’t evidence. I probably should have written it differently, but the second paragraph explains why I think the natural rights view is correct and can be used to make a moral case, even when achieving your end will require a great deal of pain, and even violence. The Founders, as you noted, had similar views and they used it as a means to justify a bloody war.

Fighting over social constructs strikes me as not being worth it, not unlike a fight—a real fight with blood in the streets—over Social Security; not worth it.

[Permalink] 3. Jon Henke wrote @ Sun, 6 Mar 2005, 7:16 pm CST:

Your view seems to be that the assumption of individual rights (in the libertarian self-ownership sense) is a good basis on which to structure a society, and will result in positive outcomes.

I agree with that. I just don’t see anything “natural” about it—at least, not in the sense implied, or stated outright, by the Founders and many paleo-libertarians. My issue is really more with the “natural” part, than the “rights” part. The latter is (in my opinion) good – the former is unsubstantiated.

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