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Why I Will Not Accept Rights-Based Justifications For Liberty

It is not necessary to claim that everyone has the "rights" for liberty to be achieved. It is actually counter productive since the arguments cannot be maintained under scrutiny. When put to the proof, rights turn out to have little or no actual meaning and have no binding force on others except insofar as they are rhetorically powerful. To the extent it is used as symbol and rhetoric, I support the rights language, but never in an intellectual discussion.

To say someone has the right to self defense, for example, is almost a meaningless truism with no moral content. To say its a right, what does that even mean? If they are unable to do so, their right means nothing. If they are able to do so, their right means nothing. To say its a right is just a meaningless, private opinion on the morality of the act.

I would say, everyone has the ability to try to act in self defense, and it usually is in their interests; they have the free will to make a decision to resist slavery at risk to their own persons if they so choose. It may be in their best interests, and so, morally right from their perspective.

But it is not necessary to assume or try to prove that it is also morally obligatory on all others to accept its rightness, or to accept as binding someone else's interests or moral claims. I have no natural obligation to act in the interests of others. Nothing can compel me to do so but force if I choose not to. No one can claim I am morally bound to limit my freedom in order to protect the interests of other living things, men or animals. This obligation can only spring from an implicit or explicit social arrangement where I exchange my "good behavior" for protection from the "bad behavior" of others. In a state of nature or anarchy, its every man for himself.

To claim a moral assertion, or an "ought," is binding on others is a dangerous slope to enter down. It could be argued that everyone has the moral right to not starve to death. If this is true, then it is a direct path to justifying socialism. If you establish the precedent that someone must self-limit their range of activities on moral grounds, to not harm others, it isn't a far stretch from there to require everyone feed the poor. Neither moral claim, the socialist or the non-aggressionist, is provable or unprovable.

It would be very hard for me to argue against a starving man's moral claim of a right to to feed himself, even by stealing. How could I seriously say he's wrong to steal rather than die? That does not mean I am bound to feed him or to see myself as in the wrong to protect my property, it just means we can both be in the right to act in our interests.

I could never call someone immoral for stealing to feed their hungry children, but I am not morally wrong to defend my property either. Morality is subjective and rooted in the different interests of different living beings, in nature as well as among people. People are also animals, a part of nature, and in nature, interests rule morality and power determines rights for all creatures. Animal rights end where animal power ends, and with humans the only added factor is social agreements and mutual or collective action to secure the legal enforcement of political arrangements, which animals cannot do. There is no magical x factor that intrudes to make humans have rights where other living animals do not.

It is not required that there be a universal binding morality for everyone, in order for political rights to be achieved. It is not necessary for every conflict to have a right and wrong party for political rights to be enforced by a body of individuals.

I reject the moral universalism inherent in natural rights claims, and the impossible requirement of proving such a moral system. I feel that by rooting out these faulty arguments, I actually strengthen the libertarian position by making its foundation real and sound, and defensible. If I have any one thing that defines me it is an intellectual conscience that does not allow me to use false and logically fallacious arguments to fool myself, or others, in order justify something I want to believe in.

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This nonsense again Bill? I

This nonsense again Bill? I was hoping you'd get past it.

Either way, the libertarian position is bullshit.

Born free

You can force a man to water but you cant make him drink. Was that a horse or a man?


you left out "initiation of force"

"If you establish the precedent that someone must self-limit their range of activities on moral grounds, to not harm others, it isn't a far stretch from there to require everyone feed the poor. Neither moral claim, the socialist or the non-aggressionist, is provable or unprovable."

it is a far stretch if you support the non-aggression principle.

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what he is saying

My reading of his post suggests he does not agree with the non-aggression principle. He likes the principle that people are, like animals, only limited by their power to do what they will; I don't think you can get non-aggression out of that. When he says he has some "better foundation" for libertarianism, it is difficult to imagine what he means.

Non-aggression, it seems to me, only makes sense in a human societal context, and only makes sense precisely because people are different from animals.

The basis for non-aggression is not morality per se, but utility.

It is interesting to note that utilitarianism is also one of the targets of modern self-proclaimed philosophers, like Michael Sandel, who are really attacking philosophy.

This is a fine example of

How athiesm, and its rejection of a creator, is a direct cause of the devolution of society, and anarchy. For there can be no morality without a higher authority, and there can be no justifiable basis for freedom either.


have no moral obligation to act in the interest of others but nature has brought us to the point where trade and reason produce the highest levels of abundance. To deliberately act against this would be unnatural, an abomination, a mutant destined for a short and unproductive life in the eyes of the universe. Nature conserves energy, it works toward efficiency and seeks balance. I don't think it would be in any man's interest to act as a complete sociopath as he would likely destroy himself in one way or another.

"Endless money forms the sinews of war." - Cicero, www.freedomshift.blogspot.com

Your argument is flawed from

Your argument is flawed from the beginning because you create a straw man when equating rights to morals. Rights aren't based in morality. You can actually believe drugs to be immoral, but that you have a right to do them so on that one simple statement the remainder of your argument fails because it's based on a false premise.

Rights are rights because as humans we can reason to where boundaries are. For example, if you can't reason self-ownership is a natural boundary, then there's nothing wrong with slavery. If you don't believe a right to live unmolested as long as you aren't harming anyone else is also a natural boundary, then anyone can just assault anyone at any time. I can go on and on, but you get the point.

"In reality, the Constitution itself is incapable of achieving what we would like in limiting government power, no matter how well written."

~ Ron Paul, End the Fed

excuse me, but rights are

excuse me, but rights are absolutely, definitely based on morality.

if you believe someone has a right to do drugs, than you are saying it is immoral to stop them.

logic, try it.

He said...

It can be (viewed as) immoral to do drugs, but that still allows the right to do them. As a consequence, he asserted that there is a fundamental flaw in your reasoning. His assertion appears to be correct. He only needs one counterexample to illustrate that you have an error.

Your irrelevant assertion about rights implying something about morality seems to be in the opposite direction. That is you may wish to claim by your example that rights are a foundation for morality, but not the reverse.

Reading comprehension (and logic), try it.

Superman weighs in on the

Read Ayn Rand's Objective Ethics

The basis of rights is that certain conditions are 'right' for human life. For example, if someone is deprived of their liberty, they will either naturally agitate to gain some of it back, or else whither spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

Rights are significant when people defend them. You have to understand them to systematically defend them and support/establish political orders that recognize them. And you have to have a base of power - i.e.: the people have to possess power. This is what 1776 was all about.

That's all there is to it. You can have anarchy, or moral anarchy (tyranny where lucky/strong coerce others), but when a people are moral, educated, and spiritually firm, they will defend their rights regardless of who's in charge.

for most of history the

for most of history the majority of people were content and happy without any politically guaranteed rights. as their power and ability to claim more increased, they did so through political channels. but it wasn't a natural requirement for them. they were happy under feudalism, under serfdom, in tribal extended kinship networks, etc. as humans, our needs for achieving contentedness are pretty minimal. ayn rand just made stuff up and then excommunicated people who dissented from her bizarre cult.

the rest of your comment i agree with.

Yet here you are making broad

Yet here you are making broad claims you expect everyone to follow.

First is the common confusion about what rights are. Rights are not a claim upon objects. Rights are the moral authority to act which cannot be alienated. EG your right to self defense is the moral right to act in self defense. You were born with it, and will die with it. The Constitution doesn't create it. (and very poorly protects it these days)

Second, in this sense morality is not subjective. You can say a person, or animal doesn't have the right to self defense but that doesn't change reality. In reality if you try to hurt someone they retain the right to fight you.

That is not a sufficient definition of rights. We can narrow it down further by recognizing that what we call rights can be defined as the set of actions the exercise of which do not create a conflict with someone else performing the same action. We can all have the right to self defense but we cannot all have the right to murder.

We can use this definition to describe rights based morality in a strict way, and this describes a morality. A 'thin' morality but it can be defined, so it is not subjective, any more than describing the rules for prime numbers is subjective. Intangible is not the same thing as subjective.

These rights further map all over the animal world. The right to life, liberty and property are seen in most animals. They don't need to be taught. It seems far fetched that this is an accident.

Rights based cases for liberty aren't as flawed as you think. Even so, you should understand that different people are convinced by different types of arguments. Just because you aren't moved by rights arguments you are foolish to disdain a tool others are using, and using with efficacy.

It's simple. Without state

Without state interference, the universal "rights" that people tend to desire for themselves would become standards in any society of intelligent, relatively civilized people.

Since private property, freedom of association, etc., are desired by every sane, civilized person, it's in everyone's interest to respect and protect the same "rights" of others.

By not respecting and protecting others' "rights" to property, freedom of association, etc., any individual risks allowing a precedent to come into existence that endangers their own "rights."

You save a stranger from being mugged, not because you particularly care about the stranger, but because it's in your best interests to limit muggings in the area where you live. If you let the mugger run amok, you may be his next victim.

You don't attack your neighbor for disagreeing with you for two reasons: one, he may end up killing you--in other words, you're respecting his right to not be harmed in order to protect your "right" to not be harmed--and two, you don't want him, or anyone else in the area where you live, to think it's okay to attack YOU when you say something they find objectionable....There, by magic, you and that neighbor have just guaranteed one another's "right" to free speech (and free thought) in the context of your relationship.

"Rights" don't come from God, or from any government, they are universal standards that arise when civilized people are free to choose how to behave. Civilized people will naturally respect and protect everyone else's basic "rights" as a way to have their own "rights" protected.

thats a mighty list of

thats a mighty list of assumptions you have there.

Eh? Maybe you didn't read.

Everyone's always babbling about where rights come from. I just told you.

My rights come only from your desire to have the same so-called rights. When people with a certain amount of basic intelligence function together on more or less equal terms (the free market, you might say), a few basic rights--the ones that everyone wants for themselves--are defined and protected....Everyone protects and respects everyone else's rights as the only sure-fire way to have their own rights protected and respected.

Maybe your problem is with the word "rights." They aren't actually rights....Nobody grants them or has any claim to them in any moral or "natural" sense...They're sane rules of conduct. People give respect to get respect, and the more civilized and intelligent the people concerned, the more refined and well-defined the rules are for giving and receiving respect.

i basically agree with that.

i basically agree with that. but i don't think it could exist without some degree of government. i'm not an anarchist.

Well, government is like

Well, government is like rights. Defined differently in different settings, depending on what kinds of minds are at work.

Market anarchists don't advocate for no government, just no massive central government with absolute authority. Endless local governments and systems of government for different types of associations could be organized by market forces. "Rights" could be protected according to what was called for and what enforcement systems were brought into being by the people concerned.

Governments as we know them are just holdovers from ancient history. Updated rhetoric, maybe, but same basic system. Central authority that can kidnap and kill with impunity. It's not completely logical to say that arrangement is necessary for basic rights to be protected. When you accept that arrangement, you invite large-scale violation of basic rights.

Only those rights you can defend

If you can't defend it, you don't have a right to it, period. From an animal perspective only, does the lion have a right to the hyena's dinner? You betcha. Is it moral? meaningless

If a lion eats a human, is it moral? meaningless
If a human eats a lion, is it moral? debatable

It seems "morality" and "rights" only enter when the human mind enters. The same animal rights exist in humans though, you have the right to defend yourself, you don't have the right to win.

Political and philosophical ideology is the attempt to reconcile the animal rights with the rights of the mind (which happens to live inside that animal).

I don't necessarily disagree with you, but how do you defend liberty without the philosophical "rights based" arguments?

Just open the box and see

you explain to the people

you explain to the people whom you depend on to uphold liberty in the law that it is a social arrangement which secures and advances their interests as well as yours, and that it is in their interests to grant said liberties to allow who abide by the law.

i already covered this by saying you can persuade them by appeal to their interests, by making a moral argument, or finally by making it not worth their while to tread on your asserted liberties. but it is hardly meaningful to pretend that there is some logical or scientific derivation that grants every human some magic list of rights by virtue of being born or of having this or that impulse.

if a natural right exists because of a natural impulse toward freedom, than "natural slaves" also exist (as Aristotle believed, btw) for those millions of people who have accepted slavery meekly and contentedly over 10k years of human history. the human being is clearly malleable in either direction, and many slaves have killed themselves to defend their masters or in grief at the death of their masters during recorded history. many slaves have loved their masters with sincere love and devotion.

neither impulse proves that nature has some hardwired preference for X or Y political system. it is an untenable argument and just a hindrance to the progress of liberty, and actually leads to embarrassingly stupid notions being regularly put forth. like for example that no one needs ever follow a law he did not agree to in a written contract, that no law that depends on society using force is legitimate, etc.

like you can speed down the public highway and the community is acting immorally to suspend your ability to drive on its own public spaces. people believe this stuff based on their starting premise, because reality simply doesn't interfere with the way some minds work.

I don't think it's a defense of liberty though

i already covered this by saying you can persuade them by appeal to their interests, by making a moral argument, or finally by making it not worth their while to tread on your asserted liberties.

I can try to make it not worth their while to tread on my rights, but I may not personally have the ability. I'm not all that happy with the NSA about now, but I have no ability to stop them.

Appeal to their interests only goes so far. I can try to persuade them that my thriving will allow them to thrive, but, that's not always true. Crony capitalism is certainly an appeal to someones interests, and seems to be the prevailing method. To the billionaire owner of a company, the replaceable peon has no rights which supersede or equal the billionaires.

but it is hardly meaningful to pretend that there is some logical or scientific derivation that grants every human some magic list of rights by virtue of being born or of having this or that impulse.

The moral argument is the political or philosophical argument of mind, and assigning rights just by being in the "have mind" club.

Call them "natural rights", "mind rights", "human rights" whatever. They are recognized by the mind, not by nature. A lion cares not for humanities definition of natural rights.

Unless they are recognized as equal for all minds, with one rational or another, a cast system develops. Those with more ability have more rights.

Just my two cents. (worth a quarter grain of rice in today's economy)

Just open the box and see

yes you are correct that if

yes you are correct that if moral appeals, appeals to self interest, and appeals to their prudence all fail, society might not agree to uphold our claim to certain rights. it is always a distinct possibility society will reduce the liberty of individuals. in fact, that is what is happening all around us. however, none of that will change if people make facile arguments about natural rights. in that case, they will just lose their liberty AND look dumb.

I agree with you

I found myself in a discussion with a relative about the recent NSA revelations and Eric Snowden. They feel the NSA is perfectly ok to do whatever they want, and Snowden is a traitor.

I asked them "What does America stand for? What are it's core ideals?"

The constitution was the answer, as I see it also.

I found myself with only philosophical arguments about it and its intent.

I found their arguments as flimsy as tissue paper, though. "Well, lets chuck it all, and go back to 1857". Ok, end of discussion, I get it, change topic. ;)

Just open the box and see

Natural rights are your natural state

You are born alive, you retain the right to live.

You are born free, you retain the right to be free.

If you are alone and have something it is yours and no one can take it away, thus you retain that right to own property when there are others present.

If you are alone you have the ability to defend yourself from animals and the elements, thus when others are present you retain your right to defend yourself from them as well.

Natural rights are nothing more than an acknowledgement of ourselves as individuals in a setting removed from others and their rights. (others rights fall into another argument)
(basically that since you retain rights others can as well because without you they would naturally anyway)

Greater good arguments fail at a basic level because they all devolve into situations that sacrifice the individual, at any given moment, to protect the collective, for any reason.

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."

Click Here To See The Candidates On The Record

nonsense. "you are born


"you are born alive" and you die by nature, you don't have any right to live simply because you were alive when you were born.

"you are born free." no you aren't, you are born at the total mercy of your parents, under their control, and completely dependent. the exact opposite of free.

if you own something and are "alone" - then there is no dispute over ownership, and no need for property. only when you aren't alone, can disputes arise and concepts of law and justice have meaning and become necessary.

it is clear you haven't really thought much on the opinions you hold.

I guess extrapolating from

I guess extrapolating from Locke Sidney and Paine and basically paraphrasing locke's 2nd treatise on civil government is "not really having thought much" on the opinions I hold.

Try comprehending what the writer is trying to convey before actually attempting to reason against it.

I'm on mobile so I won't go into dissecting your attempt to take what I said out of context.

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."

Click Here To See The Candidates On The Record

The specific rights people

The specific rights people speak of are just in the context of defining a line government may not cross. People don't have rights in the arena of private property. You can't come into my house and say anything you want and expect to have the right to leave with your life. You have no right to be armed on my property if I don't want you to be unless you're a peace officer (a real one, not a "cop").

Please come join my forum if you're not a trendy and agree with my points of view.

Somebody PM me

if anyone on this thread comes up with a better foundation for liberty than natural rights. Utilitarianism fails big time. Until then, enjoy the discussion :)

“With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste.”
-Njal Thorgeirsson

This is my take on Rights...

Ability and Rights are not the same thing but they do correlate.
Law and Rights are also not the same. Rights stem from ownership. Law stems from the rights to Our Life, Our Liberty and Our Property. Morality stems from self discipline. Moral rights are used to build your life. Immoral rights are used to destroy your life. Quick example of moral and immoral rights; You have a right and ability to lie to people. That would be an immoral right. You also have the right and ability to be honest with people. That would be a moral right. Ability stems from your being, genetics.

Living things do have a right to try and defend themselves from harm. Not all living things have the ability. A person with perfect eyesight has the ability to exercise their right to see. A blind person would not be able to exercise that right. Unfortunately we do have defective parts occasionally and bad things happen... But a person with dysfunctional legs does not lose their right to walk. Ability can change with technology, friends, family, charity and many other factors.
A cat has the right to see in the dark, a human does not, that is a right granted to them by life. A cat could have temporary blindness but does not lose their right to see, only their ability, temporarily. Even a blind person, via technology that could possibly see one day does not gain a new right, they are simply able to exercise one they've always had.

Important Consideration
The right to YOUR LIFE, does not mean you have the right to live, although you do have an ability to live. It means you have ownership of your life, you control it. You can protect it or end it. If you stop eating, you die. That means, naturally, you do not have a right to LIVE although you may have the ability to.

A person has a right to cause harm to themselves. A person has a right to consume, wear, not wear or do anything they want to themselves, that's self ownership.

An elderly person may not have the ability to utilize any of their possessions but they do not automatically lose their right to them. If someone comes in and takes all of their property because they lack the ability to stop them, they never lost their right to it. They were wronged, someone stole from them. If the property gets recovered it is returned to its rightful owner.

Your case about the thief feeding themselves may not be accurate. The thief is always wrong. They have no right to steal. They have a right to ask or work for food and, at the same time, others have a right to ignore or deny them food when asked. A thief could steal someone's last potions of food which causes them to get malnourished or die. A thief could see that a person has a bunch of extra food and they steal a portion of it not knowing that the stolen portion was meant for one of the person's family members who supports 10 children, resulting in sickness or death.

Rights that are usurped are not nullified \ lost. They still exist as rights. Even if all ability is lost, the right remains the same.

BTW, What are these "political rights" of which you speak?

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