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Natural Rights are the Foundation of Liberty

To me, it seems absurd that - as libertarians - we even need to have this discussion. However, recent threads (here and here) have set out to claim either natural rights do not exist or only exist in instances where they are able to be defended by those claiming said rights. I will demonstrate that both arguments are fallacious. Natural rights are the foundation on which liberty rests.

To be clear, we must first define natural rights:

Natural Right - a right that would exist in the absence of government

Right - a just claim or title

First, let us suppose that rights do not exist. If rights do not exist, then it could be said that no person has a just claim or title to anything. If this were the case, we would expect everything to be perfectly communal. However, if no individual could own anything, then by extension, no group of people could own anything either - as this would require the definition of group rights - but we have assumed that no rights exist. Therefore, we have arrived at a logical contradiction, and we must conclude that rights must exist.

We'll consider an example. Caveman A makes a spear. We could, then, say that Caveman A has a just claim to use and possess the spear. To say that Caveman A did not have a just claim to use and possess the spear would be analogous to saying that the use of the spear by him would be unjust. Making such a claim would be logically dishonest. We conclude that Caveman A has a right to his property. Does Caveman B have a just claim to the spear? Logically and correctly, no. If Caveman B took the spear for himself, the action would be unjust. Caveman B would have violated the right of Caveman A.

To say that neither man had a just claim to the spear would be absurd and meaningless - that is, to say that rights do not exist.

Now, let's move on to the existence of natural rights. As stated, these are just claims or titles that would exist in the absence of government. So, the claim that natural rights do not exist is to make the claim that, in the absence of a government, rights would not exist either. It turns out that we run into the same logical conundrum as before - since in the previous treatment we never assumed a government existed; so, the above argument still holds. Therefore, rights would exist in the absence of government, and by definition, these are natural rights.

In the course of this analysis, it has also been shown false that no rights exist when they are unable to be successfully defended. Theft is an unjust claim to another's property. Murder is an unjust claim to another's life. In order for a claim to be unjust, a just claim must exist. Therefore, any unjust claim is a violation of a just claim, or more properly, a violation of a right.

It has also been claimed by the user that posted the mentioned threads that using the argument for natural rights would almost certainly lead to socialism. He claimed that a person may steal food to protect their own life. However, as I have shown, stealing is a violation of natural rights and, therefore, cannot be considered part of any philosophy that has the protection of natural rights at its foundation - such as libertarianism.

Natural rights are the foundation of liberty. After all, can a person be held in slavery without being wronged?


Update 6/25/2013

Some users have tried to make the claim that since instances may arise where there is no clear right and wrong party that rights do not exist except where written laws (or a social contract) can be used by an official arbiter to make final judgements. In other words, the argument infers that rights do not exist unless they are spelled out (bestowed) by a government because in the absence of such a compact there would be gray area. One can see that this argument holds no water when it is considered that gray area can exist even when a government is in place. Thus, if the argument were correct, it could be said that no rights exist even under government because gray area may exist.

In reality, the existence of gray area implies that there are areas that gray area does not exist. For instance, ask any human on the face of the planet the following questions:

1. A perfect stranger approaches you and shoots you in the face. In that case, have you been wronged?

2. A perfect stranger approaches you and steals your wallet/purse. In that case, have you been wronged?

3. A perfect stranger approaches you, holds a gun to your head, and forces you to perform an act that you would not otherwise perform. In that case, have you been wronged?

where I define a perfect stranger as a person that has no knowledge of you, and you have no knowledge of him/her. Thus, no motive exists for any of the above actions.

You can try to make up a hypothetical person but one does not exist. As well, in the questions, it was never assumed that a government existed.

I would like to continue, but I have business to tend. I will address further arguments in the comment section or via another update at a later time.

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In defense of Bill,

you are casting things in black and white: just and unjust like there is no middle ground. I think Bill's point was that without some authority just and unjust are ambiguities. Who enforces said contract? Without an enforcer, does said contract or just/unjust really exist?

With that said, I assume natural rights and reject authority by instinct and intuition. My being wants to be free, absolutely free. Some Christians, all Objectivists, group A, and group B, want everything to be logical. Is there logic to freedom or is it inherent? Is there logic to natural rights or are they inherent? If it is inherent it presupposes human logic. I need no logic because my being screams for freedom. You get me now Bill?

I AM is all that is. Everything else is malleable.

Claim Recognized by Law

I believe it was the Supreme Court of Canada that stated that "a right is a claim recognized by law". I would suggest that the law of nature (physics, animal instinct, etc) is different from natural law. I would suggest that natural law is objective logical deductive reasoning, void of emotion / prejudice with an eye towards human dignity and respect. Natural law, distinct from Law of Nature, might equally be called Common Law.
Natural Rights, I would suggest, are a product of Natural Law. In the absence of thinking, in the domain of Law of Nature, rights do not exist... There is no right or wrong, but thinking makes it so...

Interesting perspective

I see where you are coming from here and it is very interesting in your distinction. I would like to suggest an insight here where there may be a demonstration of what you call Natural Law and the Law of Nature to be one in the same. The perceptronic neural activity within the human brain conducts electrical signals according to logic. Logic can be deduced to four fundamental logic gates with a minimum of 2 of the four distinct gates (NOT AND aka NAND gate) required to enable a patterning into all logical operational outcomes. The perceptronic activity of the human brain percepts energetic signal stimuli and processes them into experiential memory and response processing nets in the brain. Logic and all bio-opto-sono-odoro-electro-mecha-chemical processing of human physiology is governed by the Law of Nature. The processing of energetic stimuli within nature is what enables and realizes Natural Law you speak of as having a prejudice deductive reasoning. That deductive reasoning is energetic stimuli converted to electrical stimuli that orchestrates a symphony of biochemical processing to animate a human being into patterns of information. All of the stimulated electrical flow must process through logic nets of experience endowed and governed by nature. So in essence thinking is governed by Law of Nature. Stimuli generated from a choice/consciousness/free will is a right recognized by the Law of Nature simply by the fact that you could write your thoughts on this page clearly demonstrates that right endowed to you by Nature.

There is one other irrefutable right that is clearly demonstrated by Law of Nature; Time. If you are here then your time is a right now recognized by the Law of Nature. Sure the Law of Nature will remove your time in the future but anyone existing at any time has been endowed with the right to exist within that time. Clearly this is recognized by the Law of Nature therefore it is a right.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

and yet ... the human mind is

and yet ... the human mind is capable of believing mathematically false statements. Would you say those mathematically false statements are also endorsed by the laws of nature or an extension thereof?

Another important distinction, I think, is that the laws of nature are descriptive. They explain the forces at work and predict the futures states of things.

Natural law, on the other hand, is prescriptive. They yield a moral obligation for the individual (or collection of individuals) to act in a certain way. The laws of nature leave open the possibility that the individuals act contrary to natural law.

Excellent points

I see where you are going here. I have pondered this very concept for some time. The conclusion I have reached is somewhat broader with some underlying details.

GIGO- Garbage in Garbage out- A term understood well in Computer Science. The microprocessor of the computer has inherent foundational laws that are predictable and repeatable. The logical capability is general in its possible outcomes but also very strict in its requirement for useful operation. The microprocessor is a logical processing machine where output functionality will be totally useless garbage if incoherent garbage data is input. The same concept goes with the human mind. It will process into a multitude of different ways depending upon the input experiences. However, when it comes to your point about mankind violating natural law your statement is true under an a certain understanding of law. My understanding is that there is a definite threshold where Natural/Law of Nature ends and Common Law begins. Common Law begins at the interaction between more than one man/woman. Natural Law ends at the individual. There is a very distinct reason for this in all Law because the fact that if no injury has been done to another by someone then that man/woman is truly innocent within Natural Law which Common Law should recognize if proper information was exercised within Natural Law of the individual to ensure that corrupted garbage information was not accepted into one's operational being in the first place. In my perspective the first in the hierarchy of all law that is even possible to violate is Common Law. Preceding Divine Law and Natural Law (Law of Nature) are both inviolate and is why the distinction is made into Common Law deriving just powers (powers of justice) from consent of the natural full liability man governed by natural and common law. Legal fictional entities of Common Law cannot be realized without the consent of the real natural man/woman. This is the point where Natural Law of non-conflicting logic transforms into Common Law. If someone operating within Common Law violates any other law then the logical fallacy can be pointed out and the neural nets of experiential logic can be nullified and thus halt the biochemical symphony from enabling motor function of human body. Acting within natural law to halt biomotor functions of the Human body requires extreme amounts of detailed information about the experiential logic nets of the individual one is interacting with otherwise failure of the attempt to shut down motor function will be realized from a lack of information about the experiential logic nets formed. Fortunately Common Law is all written down so one can know the experiential logic nets of those exercise Common Law. The words of Common Law are the experiential logic nets inside the brain and one can utilizing conflicts in logical (logical check mates) to shut down motor function of those who truly live within the Common Law. This also means that one can find those who live outside the law (outlaws) using the same process. Will one admit when logical fallacies are identified and proven or will they continue with into corrupted operation of the mind outside of Common Law? This is how all can be maintained and protected from those who have corrupted logical operations governing their behavior.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

SUPERMAN steps into the

Mental Construct

Rights (natural or otherwise) are merely a mental construct. The administration of right and wrong, the administration of justice is all contrived in the head. Upon accepting the precept that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and in rights, we can engage in logical deductive reasoning and come to a general 'libertarian' view point.
However, there is, imo, a more fundamental point to be appreciated. The administration of law / rights is merely preoccupied with compelling everyone to have respect for others (live and let live). I would suggest the actual aim is to have respect for others not because the rules tell you how to be, but because one has an inherent respect for others.

this is a pretty reasonable

this is a pretty reasonable sort of middle ground i'd say. and i'm pretty exhausted from debating. you win the debate.

egapele's picture

Think - Chelsea Clinton's recent gaffe:

Her grandmother did not benefit from the benefits of Planned Parenthood.

Think, seriously. Very seriously.

This is the best a "pro-Hillary" site can do:

Chelsea Clinton's Planned Parenthood Gaffe Not Fatal
Mark Whittington, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Jun 22, 2013

Chelsea Clinton's bemoaning the fact that her great grandmother did not have the benefit of the services of Planned Parenthood has been the subject of much hilarity in cyberspace. Hot Air suggests that it is much to do about nothing.

Typical of the mocking came from The Blaze, which opined, 'Isn't this basically like saying you're sad to be alive today?' The idea is that if Ms. Clinton's great grandmother had the services of Planned Parenthood, she would have had access to birth control and abortions which might have meant no grandmother, no Hillary Rodham, and no Chelsea, at least as we know her today.



A challenge to anyone who doesn't believe in natural rights.

The natural right of Privacy was implied in the 4th amendment, but not exactly explained in the bill of rights? Correct? Lets use this then since there will be no questions of the Constitutional legality.

I challenge ANY fool who doesn't believe privacy, a natural right, or privacy being a natural right to put his money where his mouth is and force government and private facilities across the country to completely renovate bathrooms so that women and mens' bathrooms are no longer segregated and no longer have stalls.

Everyone goes into a room (to protect against bathroom odors until a solution to constantly remove odors and "utility of odor barrier" is solved) to do their business, walk in to do room all they see is rows of commodes.

Everyone can see everything be they woman or man, adult and child. I mean there is no such thing as natural rights according to OP so they should have no problem taking a shit or piss. Simple challenge. Do this, and stop shitting up our site with stupid opinions.

lols. good comment and funny,

lols. good comment and funny, but still... putting a right in the constitution means "we want this protection, we desire it and will enforce it."

has no bearing on the discussion of nat rights theory.

I've upvoted you and agree, but you've misstated my...

opinion (maybe by mistake). I am the original poster (OP) of the article, and I have defended the existence of natural rights in the post.

"First, let us suppose that

"First, let us suppose that rights do not exist. If rights do not exist, then it could be said that no person has a just claim or title to anything. If this were the case, we would expect everything to be perfectly communal. However, if no individual could own anything, then by extension, no group of people could own anything either - as this would require the definition of group rights - but we have assumed that no rights exist. Therefore, we have arrived at a logical contradiction, and we must conclude that rights must exist."

This is as far as I can make it. You can not logic, sir. :)

You have created a strawman by claiming that people who argue against natural rights accept group rights. I think you will find this is more often then not, not the case. I could go on and point out the false dichotomy above but... it isn't worth my time. If you would like a lively debate on rights I am frequently in DP chat.

If no individual has a just claim to anything,

no group of people can have a just claim to anything either.

Let's have the lively debate in public, if you wish.

this book seems relevant to this discussion


CAVEAT: I have not read this book yet, just discovered it today. But it looks interesting. A biological basis for morality. Interesting.

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu

Michael Nystrom's picture

I gave you an upvote

and an A for effort, and discussion. But I have to say I disagree.

Mises had something to say about this as well, over on this thread, which I gave a bump to for timeliness & visibility.

"Natural Rights" are an invention of man. A nice invention, but not a law. I wish they were true, but on this one, I'm in Mises's camp.

Every word of this doctrine is false. Nature is not bounti­ful but stingy. It has restricted the supply of all things in­dispens­able for the preservation of human life. It has populated the world with animals and plants to whom the impulse to destroy human life and welfare is inwrought. It displays powers and el­ements whose operation is damaging to human life and to human endeavors to preserve it. Man’s survival and well-being are an achievement of the skill with which he has utilized the main in­strument with which na­ture has equipped him—reason.


Reading this short passage brings up a question. And I'm not being flip here, only probing for understanding of your position.

Under the idea of Natural Law, we all have the right to life. So how should a bear be dealt with, who kills a man and eats him?

Should it be summarily executed? Or should it receive a trial? What if, at the trial, the man was found to be trespassing in the bear's territory? Then should it be released?

The bear, after all, knows nothing of our concept of "Natural Law," only its own.

the bear has no natural rights

I disagree with dwalters here.

In answer to your question, Michael: the bear has no natural rights. The bear does not act, it behaves. I has no conception of ends or means or logic. It is not a rational being and certainly not a reasonable one. It behaves merely in accordance with its primitive instincts.

Humans on the other hand, do act -- well most of us do, at least -- we have a clear conception of goal and of means and of method in every one of our ends-driven behaviors. Our capacity for logic is orders of magnitude greater than that of the bear. Humans are rational beings. (At this point, I am still in line with Mises. But here's the step he doesn't make:) And because humans are rational, they ought to be reasonable, too.

If humans ought to be reasonable, they also ought to be reasonable with respect to each other. Actions are either in accordance with the reason and logic of mutual respect, or they are not. This is the essence of any moral justification as well as the essence of natural law and natural rights.

Only actions are justifiable. Since the bear does not act, rights do not apply to him. Nor can he be expected to respect the rights of others. Whoever owned the bear at the time of the killing is responsible for the victim's death.

Here is the paragraph that precedes the one you quoted:

"The worst of all these delusions is the idea that “nature” has bestowed upon every man certain rights. According to this doc­trine nature is openhanded toward every child born. There is plenty of everything for everybody. Consequently, everyone has a fair inalienable claim against all his fellowmen and against society that he should get the full portion which nature has allot­ted to him. The eternal laws of natu­ral and divine justice re­quire that nobody should appropri­ate to himself what by rights belongs to other people. The poor are needy only because unjust people have deprived them of their birthright. It is the task of the church and the secular authorities to prevent such spoliation and to make all people prosperous."

I believe Mises is arguing here against positive rights, not negative rights.

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." - Khalil Gibran
"The Perfect Man has no self; the Holy Man has no merit; the Sage has no fame." - Chuang Tzu

I've replied in the thread you've mentioned...

I think your example provides a good opportunity to make my point. You say:

Under the idea of Natural Law, we all have the right to life. So how should a bear be dealt with, who kills a man and eats him?

Should it be summarily executed? Or should it receive a trial? What if, at the trial, the man was found to be trespassing in the bear's territory? Then should it be released?

The bear, after all, knows nothing of our concept of "Natural Law," only its own.

In saying this you have presumed that the bear has no natural rights - that natural rights are special to humans. I disagree. Animals also have natural rights. They naturally seek to protect their property and territory. Animals from small to large will fight to the hilt to protect their freedom. Upon capture, they will never act the same. They know they have lost something. They have not defined it through complex language, but they still know they have lost something - that they have been violated in a fundamental way just as a man would feel that was once free but is later subjected to servitude.

Nonetheless, given your example, people would say, "The fool should have known better to mess with the bear - to encroach upon the bear's property." This is not hypothetical. Remember the "Grizzly Man". What was your reaction when you first heard about it?

Natural rights exist. Animals have them. People have them. People may or may not respect the natural rights of others but they - naturally - exist. For instance, most people do not likely respect the natural rights of bugs, but many more people respect the natural rights of rattle snakes.

It's all BS without God.

Even the Deists founders recognized that it was the divine who was the author of men's rights. If something SUPERIOR to a human is not the definer and creator of the rights, then you can bullshi* around about "natural" this and that, but ultimately there is no other authority to refer to and it ends up in the hands of men without recourse except, ultimately, through exercise.

So, I disagree with you as well as the two articles from the person you disagree with. It's all bullshi* hot air without God.


If God told you to kill an

If God told you to kill an innocent person, would you do it?

Don't be a yazz.


Please answer the question.

Please answer the question.

Sorry I don't work for you.

Do you still beat your wife?

yeah but if god did exist, he

yeah but if god did exist, he still doesn't tell us what he is thinking, so it doesn't add any clarity to the situation. whether socialism or anarchism is moral isn't cleared up by god unless god writes a book on the subject. otherwise, anyone can make a moral assertion about how society should be ordered and then attribute it to god. is that what you do?

Why would God write a book?

If there IS an all-knowing, all-powerful God, why in the world would He have to write a Book telling people whatever He wants them to know? Is all-powerful God unable to plant His truths directly into our minds? Are we supposed to give greater credence to an old Book -- which could have been written by ANYBODY -- liars, fools, or people deceived by religious charlatans? Many "holy books" have claimed to be the revealed Word of God -- which constitutes pretty good proof that NONE of them are. Anybody can write a book, and claim "God told me so." I know that to be true, because God told me so in a vision.

Now you wonder: is dabooda lying, crazy, or stoned out of his gourd? (Okay, I was channeling Bill Clinton for a minute there.) But seriously? I've never understood why people don't look with equal skepticism at the people whose "religious visions" inspired the various Holy Books of the world.

I became an atheist about the same time I found out the awful truth about Santa Claus, simply because God wouldn't answer my childish prayer, asking if He was really there. That should have been a snap for an all-knowing and all-powerful God, I figured. If He was all-knowing, he MUST have heard my prayer. If He was all-powerful, he COULD have answered it. I reasoned that if God wouldn't do that, He must have some reason for wanting me NOT to believe in Him. So I don't. If I wake up dead some day, and find God waiting for me, I guess He'll know I did the best I could with the brain He gave me.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

Except he did.

How old are the ten commandments? (Don't steal. Don't murder.) 4000 years?

When did he clarify that all men are created equal in his eyes? Over 2000 years ago?

When did he clarify the Non-Aggression Principle for the first time in history? Over 2000 years ago? (aka the Golden Rule: treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.)

So, again, you can talk etherial bulldoody, or you can espouse what our founding fathers did, who I promise, were much, much smarter than anyone here, let alone the general population.

lol the bible is 100% cool

lol the bible is 100% cool with slavery.

the only good thing to come out of these threads is to demonstrate how, even among libertarians, there are diverse opinions on what constitutes right and wrong, and therefore no universal definition of justice.

how much broader that diversity of opinion must be outside of libertarians, and outside of western culture, across all human beings? the idea of some natural social order or natural, universal morality existing is so absurdly refuted simply by all of us arguing and disagreeing about right and wrong, rights, etc. when we're supposed to all be very similar politically.

I think you have reading comprehension problems.

As God reveals more of his law and teaching show where he reaches that conclusion?

What you are saying is analagous to this: becuase Copernicus appears in a history book, then "history teaches earth-centric solar" theory, which is obviously silly.

How broader you ask? Well, there are OVER TWO BILLION christians in the world. That's fairly broad if you ask me.

awesome crazy reply ty

awesome crazy reply ty