• bert1
    510
    Do we have natural rights or not?

    Natural rights are rights that we have regardless of any laws governments may or may not make. They are contrasted with legal, man-made rights. It came up in a recent thread and I'm interested in what people think.
    1. Do we have natural rights? (23 votes)
        Yes
        43%
        No
        57%
  • Shawn
    10.8k
    To me, they're based on psychological need.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.8k
    I voted "yes", but honestly the term "natural rights" causes needless confusion.

    One person's rights consists in either their own permission (liberty rights) or someone else's obligation to them (claim rights). Permission and obligation are deontic-logical states. Calling rights "natural" often suggests that the rights are supposed to be features of the natural, i.e. physical, world, things that "exist" out there somewhere to be found. But moral naturalism has major ontological problems. There can be moral objectivism without being naturalistic or even descriptivist at all, like Hare's universal prescriptivism, or my own similar metaethics. On that account, there can be things that are objectively permissible and obligatory regardless of what humans may or may not say they are, and those permissions and obligations can constitute rights that people objectively do or do not have independent of anybody's opinions. Calling them "natural rights" is fine, so long as these nuances are understood, but far too often they're not, and the name just leads to needless confusion instead.
  • Shawn
    10.8k


    What happened to essentialism?
  • Nils Loc
    655
    In the end any appeal to rights requires whether they are recognized by whoever/whatever is obstructing them.

    Do crocodiles have a justice system? If I go swimming in a croc infested pool, have I ceded the natural rights to my life, if I indeed have a natural right to life?
  • Pfhorrest
    2.8k
    Who said anything about essentialism? / What does that have to do with anything?
  • Shawn
    10.8k
    Who said anything about essentialism? / What does that have to do with anything?Pfhorrest

    I did, and everything, in my mind.
  • Heiko
    299
    Rights are essentially a relation of one party bending the will of another.
    Property rights limit foreign access to possessions, your rights as a citizen limit the souvereignity of the state. This is why people tend to confuse them with their freedom - which is not that wrong after all.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.9k
    The question isn't whether we have or do not have natural rights, or even whether they're "real". The question is what basic rights do we want for ourselves and for others? Why? How to promote them? And how to uphold them?

    Strictly speaking natural rights seem to depend on the needs and wants of the people who make them up.
  • Pfhorrest
    2.8k
    On this note, I think it would be useful if we had a term besides "rights" for the kinds of things that are all too often called "basic human rights" these days. Goods that, in the present circumstances, a moral society really ought to ensure everyone has reasonable access to, the denial of which, in the present circumstances, is a sign of some systemic societal failure, but which really shouldn't be considered universal, absolute rights in all circumstances. Things like "periodic vacations with pay", which only make sense at all in the context of an industrial capitalist society. Sure, I think that people in industrial capitalist societies really should reasonably all get periodic vacations with pay, but to call that a "basic human right" suggests that primitive hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers and so on, in places and times where the conditions in which offering periodic vacations with pay make sense just didn't exist, were all suffering human rights violations across the board. And that's just silly.
  • frank
    5.1k

    Natural rights are a component of a certain worldview. It's Roman, so it's part of our own worldview, but it's mixed in with a lot of other conflicting ideas.

    If you drift into the part of your culture that owns natural rights, then the question of whether you have them isn't debatable. Of course you do. It's just a matter of looking out into the natural world and recognizing how things work.

    If you drift toward a part of your culture that can't use the idea, then the question doesn't make much sense.
  • ernestm
    1k
    Natural rights are rights that we have regardless of any laws governments may or may not make.bert1

    You may see the typical attorney objections to that statement, as well as an introduction to my own thoughts on the topic at https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/8273/the-total-inanity-of-public-opinion-on-what-laws-are-right-and-wrong

    I dont expect more discussion there as you have hijacked my thread. My own thoughts would require reading 30,000 words to get to the point of evolution on them I am now, and if anyone is interested in reading them, I will transfer the text to my current home on LinkedIn, in about 6 posts averaging 5,000 words each.
  • ztaziz
    91
    You have a right to the perfect offense/defense and a perfect judge.

    If nature is ever stupid to you with the big bang, you have the right to cause a big bang for each star (you have this right because you are, metaphorically a clean spirit - that experiences hell for evil doing).
  • jamalrob
    2.4k
    I voted yes, but it's paradoxical. In saying "we hold these Truths to be self-evident", we're making a choice. Natural rights are stipulated or asserted under certain social conditions, and we thereby create them, according to how we want to live in those conditions. We say, in an effort to respect human beings universally, that these are the basic rights that every human being has, by nature. But if we create them, and only in certain conditions, then how can they be natural and universal?

    Building on what @Pfhorrest says, it's as if we cannot conceive of universal rights unless we conceive of them as features of the natural world. The idea of moral objectivity without naturalism is a difficult one for us to handle. Incidentally, this is also clear in the effort to describe homosexuality as entirely biological, as if gay rights must depend on nature.

    But I voted yes because I want to say that humans don't only find what is so, but make it so. That is, what is natural for us can change.
  • ttjordy
    60
    Interesting question. What is your definition of a natural right?

    If you mean right as in a legit reason for certain behavior, I think everyone has them. There is not a reason needed for something to be precise, so actuallu nobody has them. They do not even exist.
  • Hanover
    5.7k
    I voted yes, but it's paradoxical. In saying "we hold these Truths to be self-evident", we're making a choice. Natural rights are stipulated or asserted under certain social conditions, and we thereby create them, according to how we want to live in those conditions.jamalrob

    If we take the definition of "natural law" as "a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct," then I would see natural law as referencing an absolute standard necessary for all human beings. This would be opposed to a relativistic standard, which is what I take your concern above to be. For example, if we accept freedom from slavery and the right to a certain autonomy of decision to be a natural right, then that would mean in all cases at all times enslavement is a violation of my natural right. It's an absolute standard. If, it's as you say, that my right to freedom from slavery is only stipulated under certain social conditions, then you're arguing the right is relative to something (specifically, certain social conditions).

    Building on what Pfhorrest says, it's as if we cannot conceive of universal rights unless we conceive of them as features of the natural world. The idea of moral objectivity without naturalism is a difficult one for us to handle.jamalrob

    It's difficult to handle only because it attempts to secularize the notion of God into the notion of nature. The problem with that is that nature is studied empirically, meaning if we expect to learn the laws of nature (e.g. gravity), we go out there and measure them. While we can pretend that these moral laws are "self evident," clearly they're not because there's nothing specifically we point to to show what that evidence is. Even should we be able to see clear as day that it's wrong to enslave people because nature says so, it's not clear what authority nature has over me.

    All of this makes sense in the context of a god creating these moral rules and that god being of higher moral knowledge than the rest of us. It's for that reason historically we have said these laws are endowed by our creator. I think that without accepting an absolute (god), you can't really justify an absolute morality. I think it's part of what secular humanists struggle with, but I don't see it as ultimately successful.
  • frank
    5.1k
    But if we create them, and only in certain conditions, then how can they be natural and universal?jamalrob

    Per the Romans, nature enforces natural rights. Evil here is essentially the same thing as disease in that an evil doer is supposed to be violating the ways of nature.

    A state can become diseased and its population will suffer when natural rights are being violated. The state will progress toward failure until the violation stops. Therefore, anyone who stands against an evil state has a natural right to do so (even if he or she is a slave).

    The background if this is a patron-based society where heads of households rule like kings.

    Its the beginning of the perception of the humanity of those who have no civil rights.
  • bert1
    510
    Thanks for your answers. You've all obviously thought about this a lot more than I have. Turns out my question glossed over a load of distinctions. I must admit I'm a bit surprised so many voted 'yes', although the 'no's have it by a small margin so far.
  • bert1
    510
    I dont expect more discussion there as you have hijacked my thread.ernestm

    Yeah, sorry about that. I just wanted a show of hands on the issue. Feel free to delete this thread any mods who are looking.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    558


    If we take the definition of "natural law" as "a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct," then I would see natural law as referencing an absolute standard necessary for all human beings.

    What would your thoughts be if we broadened this standard a little and took the emphasis away from "unchanging moral principles" to more like "the source of morality or goodness as located in nature, i.e. something natural." I know you may very well have the same thoughts - that we need a creator, and that's a perfectly reasonable position. Maybe the creator could be Gaia or some "mind of nature" or something weaker.

    While we can pretend that these moral laws are "self evident," clearly they're not because there's nothing specifically we point to to show what that evidence is.

    I think there is an element of self-evidency even if it's not completely universal. Imagine if you lived in a close knit village and there was a terrible murder involving a home invader going into a neighbor's home and killing the family. Everybody would be horrified, with perhaps a few exceptions but I'd argue these people are missing something (analogous to how someone just might not recognize good music, perhaps.) In the case of the murder, the investigator and the policeman enter the home as the first responders and they see and grasp the wrongness first hand (you may take issue with this, but it seems at least like a reasonable start to me.)

    It's only after this has happened that the philosopher comes in and reasons that the act was wrong because, e.g. it "failed to maximize happiness" or the murderer treated his victim "merely as a means" or something else that seems kind of ridiculous.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.1k
    I voted "no" because I don't think it appropriate to speak of "rights" that are unenforceable. or the violation of which is without recorse. There are legal rights, but there are no rights that should be legal rights, which, I think, is all that "natural rights" are (unless they're legal rights).
  • fdrake
    4k


    Something I've always wanted to ask you, do you think a law can be immoral?
  • bert1
    510
    I voted "no" because I don't think it appropriate to speak of "rights" that are unenforceable. or the violation of which is without recorse.Ciceronianus the White

    Yes, intuitively that is my view.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    558


    I don't understand this. Many natural rights just are legal rights across the globe and many natural rights are enforced by governments. Even if there was no government there could still be consequences for violating someone's natural rights whether they're in a legal, written document or not.
  • NOS4A2
    3.6k


    I believe in "natural rights", but only as moral reminders or as easily digestible concepts for every day conversation, not as a features of the natural world. I believe it is just and moral to refrain from harming someone, censoring him, and stealing from him, but I do not believe he possesses any set of objects called "rights" that I shall not infringe upon.

    This gives an opening to anyone who would seek to undermine these and other moral commitments to our fellow man, so I think the believer of "natural rights" should also ground them in tradition and trial and error, as commitments that have withstood the test of time.
  • schopenhauer1
    4.4k

    While natural rights were originally grounded in the language of natural law theory, I believe even Enlightenment folks knew that this made little sense. Rather, they probably understood it more like, "Act as if we had natural rights". The "self-evidence" of this is people's tendency for making their own choices and decisions, their desire (as much freedoms as they can without infringing on other people's rights), and the theory's outcomes (a public with a variety of ideas, pursuits, and creative endeavors). Thus, natural rights was a pragmatic stance on how the best types of societies should be based. Of course, to these Enlightenment folks.. natural rights were "naturally" limited to the same type of people as themselves (highly educated, landed gentry, property-owning). Their conception was of a certain type of people with natural rights.. and this idea slowly spread to other people.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.1k
    Something I've always wanted to ask you, do you think a law can be immoral?fdrake

    I'm not sure that a law can be described as immoral in the way we would call an act or ommission immoral, or a person immooral. I think a law could require or allow for conduct which would be immoral. It would in that case be a bad law, an objectionable law, a law which should be repealed or amended. But it would nevertheless be a law.
  • jamalrob
    2.4k
    The German Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, 1933, was an immoral law, no?
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.1k
    Even if there was no government there could still be consequences for violating someone's natural rights whether they're in a legal, written document or not.BitconnectCarlos

    Well, I don't think we can equate morality and the law, and so am hesitant to characterize laws as moral or immoral. They're merely laws, and will remain laws regardless of whether we call them moral or immoral. Perhaps I shouldn't be so hesitant, but I think characterizing them as moral or immoral results in a confusion I think is already too common, and confusion. Jews should not have been excluded from the civil service in Germany in 1933. That law should not have been adopted. Nonetheless it was. Does that make that law immoral, or does its adoption mean those who caused it to be adopted were immoral, or was the conduct it sanctioned immoral? I would say the latter two statements are appropriate, but not the first.
  • BitconnectCarlos
    558


    My question was with your original statement that it's not appropriate to speak of rights that were unenforceable which confused me a little. Enforcement is a human endeavor, and when I think of natural rights the first things that come to mind are right to life and right to not be maimed for no reason. Our entire police system exists to either prevent or - if not prevent, then at least provide recourse for theses crimes. Even if there was no police force you still have families and maybe tribes.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    1.1k

    A person who has a claimed right in those circumstances wouldn't be entitled to protection of that right or entitled to recourse in the event of violation, regardless of whether anyone felt any moral obligation. Whether the right was recognized or enforced, or recourse granted, would depend on whether others choose to recognize them, or enforce them, or see that recourse is granted. They may, or may not. There isn't anything that requires them to make any particular choice. Law provides a mechanism which identifies a right and provides for its protection or enforcement regardless of what others are inclined to do or not do, with the power of the state available to be imposed if necessary.
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