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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?

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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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Natural Right - a right that

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

Right - a just claim or title

as humans we can have compassion and empathy with others, we can sympathize with their interests or position, we can put ourselves into their shoes and imagine our emotions and thoughts if we were them. we can champion the underdog in a conflict we are not involved in by imagining ourselves in the same position, and we can think of a bully or aggressor and say, "i would never act that way." this is perhaps the origin of our ability to claim moral judgments of the actions and conflicts of others, to say one is just and another is unjust.

but really, our ability to distinguish whats fair and unfair or right or wrong in a conflict is not really something permanent, inherent or inborn. how we perceive a conflict depends largely on the context of time and place. whether we sympathize with the stronger or weaker party in a conflict has a lot to do with our moral and religious training, and our own position in society and life.

for example, there are people who are so hypermoral that they consider eating meat wrong because it involves the 'unjust' killing of an animal. some are so hypermoral that if they see one animal kills another for food, they have an emotional reaction or sentimental response. they feel that the situation is unjust toward the weaker creature or perhaps empathize with it. so we see that learned moral sentiments can be extended ridiculously to nature where the rules that govern society would make no sense.

in the absence of law and government, or the rules of a society, if two persons or groups have a conflict over some property or over something else (people fight about all kinds of things, often without any of their actual interests being involved), there is no inherent or natural way to determine the justice of either party's actions. there is no inborn conception of justice that would allow all people to take the same side in the dispute. the number and kind of things humans would fight over in tribal times, from material things to non material, are probably innumerable.

lots of conflicts can have no just or unjust party, even if some sympathize with the one side, some with the other.

so then, the definition that a right is a "just" claim or title, and a natural right is "a just claim or title in the absence of government" can have no basis without a FINAL arbiter of the justice of the case.

not everyone agrees on the justice of any conflict. before governments, disputes were settled through feuds in which the parties' relatives took their cause as just because their feelings were toward their relative. that is as natural an impulse as any modern, trained moral impulse.

in the absence of the moral training that has come with centuries of civilization, religion and government, it is probably much more natural to side with whoever is closest to you than to try to niggle out the theoretical justice of the matter with "moral premises" that cannot be established or proven.

it is as likely in human nature to side with the stronger in a conflict then the weaker, neither is inherent or inborn. neither is provable as a theory.

justice has no natural or absolute properties. the conception of what is just comes from living in society and adhering to its rules and customs, and learning to seek one's interests in accord with those rules. as long as society provides protections and benefits, people will opt to be in rather than out, and will comply with its rules as the price for membership. crime is the refusal to pay that price, the attempt to free ride on society's protections without adhering to its rules.

society, law, rights -- they are social arrangements made to secure the interests of the members and make the conflicts that naturally arise in society resolvable through known laws and procedures, so that there is a predictable environment in which long term contracts and plans can be entered into. this allows economic activity, for one thing, because property is secure and contracts can be enforced.

we might strive for a society in which the conditions of the social arrangement are such that everyone is given absolute equal rights and allowed to pursue their private ends with the absolute least interference from others that is possible, consistent with the social structure continuing to exist. but whether this striving will have the support the the other members of the social arrangement will depend less on morality or justice than on their sense that their interests will be advanced by such an arrangement.

anyway - a right as "a just claim or title" has no meaning in the absence of a social arrangement in which custom and law bind the group to defend some individuals and punish others in order to limit and resolve conflicts and disputes.

in the absence of such an arrangement, all conflicts and disputes go to the bar of violence and power, and greater power is the only right or claim one can make and the only justice. it takes society to limit nature's form of justice and create man's justice.

I have addressed your concerns by implication already

but for kicks, I will address them individually and direct.

...our ability to distinguish whats fair and unfair or right or wrong in a conflict is not really something permanent, inherent or inborn.

Why does a baby cry and reach for its pacifier when it is taken? Did someone teach the baby that behavior? Or, is it natural - inborn?

how we perceive a conflict depends largely on the context of time and place. whether we sympathize with the stronger or weaker party in a conflict has a lot to do with our moral and religious training, and our own position in society and life.

This has nothing to do with the existence of natural rights. Ask any human being these questions:

A stranger approaches, pulls out a gun, and shoots you in the face. Have you been wronged?

A stranger approaches and steals your wallet/purse. Have you been wronged?

A stranger approaches, holds a gun to your head, and makes you perform an act you would be otherwise unwilling to do. Have you been wronged?

There is not a person alive that would not, naturally, agree that in those circumstances that they had been wronged. You can attempt to make-up a hypothetical person, but none exist.

What you describe is a hypothetical scenario where rights have been violated, but who is right and who is wrong is not immediately clear. By implication of the statement, rights do exist. Difficulty of interpretation does not infer that rights don't exist in the first place. This is merely a technicality and could occur even in the case that an official arbiter was judging the case under a written law. Nonetheless, it is not an argument against the existence of natural rights.

...there are people who are so hypermoral that they consider eating meat wrong because it involves the 'unjust' killing of an animal. some are so hypermoral that if they see one animal kills another for food, they have an emotional reaction or sentimental response. they feel that the situation is unjust toward the weaker creature or perhaps empathize with it. so we see that learned moral sentiments can be extended ridiculously to nature where the rules that govern society would make no sense.

Sure, it is "ridiculous" to think animals could act similarly to humans.

Quoting from the article at newscientist.com:

In July 2007, he and his team of Earthwatch Institute volunteers saw a mother interact with her dead newborn calf. She lifted the corpse above the surface, in an apparent attempt to get it to breathe (see photo). "This was repeated over and over again, sometimes frantically, during two days of observation," says Gonzalvo. "The mother never separated from her calf." The team heard her calling to it while she touched it with her snout and pectoral fins.

As well, I'm not sure of the source of the Frenchman from the 1500's, but I have no reason to doubt him and as I reported in my other reply:

What else can explain the behavior of the elephant who, after defending himself to the last ounce of his strength and knowing himself on the point of being taken, dashes his jaws against the trees and breaks his tusks, thus manifesting his longing to remain free as he has been and proving his wit and ability to buy off the huntsmen in the hope that through the sacrifice of his tusks he will be permitted to offer his ivory as a ransom for his liberty?

Again, your argument isn't against that natural rights exist, but just conjecture as to whether animals have rights. Personally, I would say that animals have every right to their lives as humans do. After all, we are animals as well. The only thing that makes us special is complex speech and opposable thumbs. Emotionally, some may be more affected when they see an animal's rights get violated. This has to do with respect to rights rather than their existence. I don't have much respect for the rights of the fish I catch and eat, but others may. Analogously, slave masters didn't have respect for the rights of the slaves they held, but others did.

in the absence of law and government, or the rules of a society, if two persons or groups have a conflict over some property or over something else (people fight about all kinds of things, often without any of their actual interests being involved), there is no inherent or natural way to determine the justice of either party's actions. there is no inborn conception of justice that would allow all people to take the same side in the dispute. the number and kind of things humans would fight over in tribal times, from material things to non material, are probably innumerable.

I have mostly addressed this case above, but I would like to say that justice is, by definition, guided by reason and not emotion. You describe people being guided by emotion. This is not an argument against the existence of natural rights.

so then, the definition that a right is a "just" claim or title, and a natural right is "a just claim or title in the absence of government" can have no basis without a FINAL arbiter of the justice of the case.

As I said before:

Difficulty of interpretation does not infer that rights don't exist in the first place. This is merely a technicality and could occur even in the case that an official arbiter was judging the case under a written law. Nonetheless, it is not an argument against the existence of natural rights.

in the absence of the moral training that has come with centuries of civilization, religion and government, it is probably much more natural to side with whoever is closest to you than to try to niggle out the theoretical justice of the matter with "moral premises" that cannot be established or proven.

Again, this is not an argument against the existence of natural rights. The existence of natural rights does not mean that every case is black and white and humans will never make decisions not based on reason. Further, if natural rights did not exist, no person would ever get mad over being stolen from or the like. The conflicts you mention arise from the existence of natural rights not from their absence.

the conception of what is just comes from living in society and adhering to its rules and customs, and learning to seek one's interests in accord with those rules.

This is a fallacy. I have already demonstrated that a baby seeks to maintain possession of its property - which is not a learned action but part of the baby's nature.

society, law, rights -- they are social arrangements made to secure the interests of the members and make the conflicts that naturally arise in society resolvable through known laws and procedures

More correctly, society and law are social arrangements made to secure the pre-existing rights of the population and to make conflicts resolvable in agreed upon procedures.

Rights pre-existed the formation of government. If people had no rights to protect, governments would have never been instituted. Your statement hints to this when you say:

...because property is secure and contracts can be enforced.

Lastly:

a right as "a just claim or title" has no meaning in the absence of a social arrangement

This blatantly says that rights do not exist unless a government hands them out. Individuals not engaging in a social contract have no rights. I have already proven this to be false on more than one occasion.

Why does a baby cry and reach

Why does a baby cry and reach for its pacifier when it is taken? Did someone teach the baby that behavior? Or, is it natural - inborn?

a baby can cry for a lollipop too. does the baby have a right to a lollipop?

a baby can cry when its mom takes away her nipple.. does a child have perennial right to mother's nipple?

your argument seems to boil down to the idea that because people naturally want certain things they have a right to them. you have demonstrated that desires and interests exist, but you have not demonstrated the justice or injustice of of them. you have no shown any universal basis for your attribution of 'justice' to one claim over another. pretty weak.

and more than just weak....

it is BOLD and admirable! you have smuggled into your definition of "rights" the word "just" - without defining justice, as if it were something settled and already known to everyone as self evident and agreed upon. of course, there is no universal agreement as to what is just when parties conflict. there is not always a right in wrong in a conflict. sometimes people's interests conflict, and neither party is right or wrong.

without some third party legal arbitration, any conflict could come to force, without either party being necessarily being in the wrong.

so the belief in natural rights, in your paradigm, depends on the impossibility of conflict where neither party is in the wrong.

you are claiming no conflict can exist between any two living things (or at least humans) without one party being just and the other party unjust.

you haven't demonstrated any basis for this claim, it is just a bare assertion. possibly, you didn't even realize you were making the claim, as you simply included the word just in your basic definition of rights without attempting to define it.

i like that, its bold, reckless, and absurd. but i like it.

The point that you missed BILL3

is that protection of property is inborn. As a matter of fact, parents normally try to dilute that sense of property rights and call it "learning to share." People naturally want to protect their property. To address your silly statement, "a baby can cry for a lollipop too. does the baby have a right to a lollipop?" You are mistaken. The baby will only cry for the lollipop if it already possessed the lollipop. A baby that is unfamiliar with what a lollipop is - which is the premise, namely that the baby has learned nothing from society yet - will not cry for a lollipop, for instance in the checkout line at the store. On the other hand, babies will cry if you take away something they possess whether they know what it is or not (unless it is something they don't wish to possess).

I guess you suppose your reply is a full response to my entire post, but you are only fooling yourself. Very few others will buy it.

To address your silly

To address your silly statement, "a baby can cry for a lollipop too. does the baby have a right to a lollipop?" You are mistaken. The baby will only cry for the lollipop if it already possessed the lollipop.

What?!?? Have you ever been around kids? They will wail and cry when they want something, even if they just pass it by in a store. How can you make such statements without realizing them to be untrue?

A baby that is unfamiliar with what a lollipop is - which is the premise... will not cry

Here you tried slyly switch the point at issue - possession of the lolly - into a totally different thing, familiarity with what it is. the point at issue was whether a child could cry for something that wasn't its property. children cry all the time when they want something, whether it is theirs or not. and they fight each other for things that aren't and never were theirs, all the time! by their nature. until they are corrected by the smart slap of a parent (omgz coercion!!!!) to learn what is and is not acceptable conduct. their nature has to be corrected by learning.

so again, you've established that babies have desires, not that they have a right to what they desire. nor that they have a natural sense of justice about property - just the opposite is true. they have to be taught good behavior, it is contrary to nature.

jeez man.. this gettin embarrassing.

Babies...

that see something they want cry. This suggests that the baby sees something familiar (ie they have learned what it is). If I took a baby to the lawnmower section, the baby would not cry for a lawnmower.

You still haven't replied to ANY of the rest of my reply. Scared to address it point by point?

yes terribly frightened.

yes terribly frightened.

Crickets...

chirp... chirp... chirp...

That's why you've provided a point by point reply

like you requested from me.

This should be "self-evident"

You are still stating the false conclusion that rights can only be bestowed by other men and do not exist otherwise. I have demonstrated that rights can be defined on an individual level.

Rights exist whether they are defensible or not. Further, I have shown that in a primitive society where the concept of rights has not even been realized - or where no government exists - that they are still naturally defended (or attempted to be defended). One can only conclude that rights exist independently and are not a construct of government or society.

From The Politics of Obedience by Etienne de la Boetie:

Liberty is the natural condition of the people. Servitude, however, is fostered when people are raised in subjection. People are trained to adore rulers. While freedom is forgotten by many there are always some who will never submit.

[...]

...it is fruitless to argue whether or not liberty is natural, since none can be held in slavery without being wronged, and in a world governed by a nature, which is reasonable, there is nothing so contrary as an injustice. Since freedom is our natural state, we are not only in possession of it but have the urge to defend it.

Now, if perchance some cast a doubt on this conclusion and are so corrupted that they are not able to recognize their rights and inborn tendencies, I shall have to do them the honor that is properly theirs and place, so to speak, brute beasts in the pulpit to throw light on their nature and condition. The very beasts, God help me! if men are not too deaf, cry out to them, “Long live Liberty!” Many among them die as soon as captured: just as the fish loses life as soon as he leaves the water, so do these creatures close their eyes upon the light and have no desire to survive the loss of their natural freedom.

If the animals were to constitute their kingdom by rank, their nobility would be chosen from this type. Others, from the largest to the smallest, when captured put up such a strong resistance by means of claws, horns, beak, and paws, that they show clearly enough how they cling to what they are losing; afterward in captivity they manifest by so many evident signs their awareness of their misfortune, that it is easy to see they are languishing rather than living, and continue their existence more in lamentation of their lost freedom than in enjoyment of their servitude.

What else can explain the behavior of the elephant who, after defending himself to the last ounce of his strength and knowing himself on the point of being taken, dashes his jaws against the trees and breaks his tusks, thus manifesting his longing to remain free as he has been and proving his wit and ability to buy off the huntsmen in the hope that through the sacrifice of his tusks he will be permitted to offer his ivory as a ransom for his liberty?

We feed the horse from birth in order to train him to do our bidding. Yet he is tamed with such difficulty that when we begin to break him in he bites the bit, he rears at the touch of the spur, as if to reveal his instinct and show by his actions that, if he obeys, he does so not of his own free will but under constraint. What more can we say? Even the oxen under the weight of the yoke complain, and the birds in their cage lament.

all i can do is make my

all i can do is make my points over again since you responded to none of them. but that would be a waste of time. and would just lead to more giant walls of text lifted from others. if you can't argue the point in your own words, there's not much else to say.

Why fix something that isn't broken?

An argument is an argument regardless of its original source. When I sit down to perform a calculation on the quantum behavior of a chemical system, I don't reformulate quantum mechanics each time. It is natural and much more efficient to build upon the arguments of others - especially when they are good arguments.

I assume you stared at your computer for quite some time before you decided on this particular response. So, I guess you really don't have much else to say.

hehe, don't be sore.

hehe, don't be sore.

Correct

All people all over the world are endowed with Natural Rights. These rights are not given to us by any government, authority or document. We have these rights by virtue of being human. These could be referred to as Universal Natural Human Rights.

These Natural Rights form the basis of Natural Law upon which all just laws are based.

We do have some documents including the US constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, etc. that help to define these rights, but these Universal Natural Human Rights exist even in the absence of these documents.