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  1. #1
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    Rights within a Naturalist framework

    I would like to use this thread to explore the concept of “rights.” Specifically, from the naturalist perspective. I chose the perspective because I am, of course, more familiar with the concept from a theist perspective. And while the thread is aimed at exploring the concept within a naturalist world view, I am open to also exploring the non-naturalist perspective as well.

    We should probably start out with a naturalist definition of a “right.” Do naturalists generally hold to the concept of negative or positive rights? Or both? [Quick definition: a negative right is a prohibition from being interfered with while a positive right is a guarantee to an outcome.]

    Now, with that asked, the bigger question. Are there such things as universal human rights within this perspective? IE are there rights that apply to all humans regardless of conditions, society, government, etc?

    If so, what are the origins of these rights? A theist would say universal human rights come from God, that He endows them on us. Clearly that would be an inappropriate explanation for a naturalist, but I suspect there would be another source that naturalists would appeal to.

    If not, then what determines context specific rights? Are they social constructs, legal constructs, useful fictions?

    Looking forward to exploring this.
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Probably the best philosophical presentation of libertarian political thought is given by Nozick's classic work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and is grounded in concepts of natural law.

    So the question becomes, what does the Naturalist make of natural law? You could go the utilitarian route and say that natural laws are merely those practices and standards of behavior which tend to lead societies to exhibit certain desirable features, or the like. At any rate, it's not at all clear to me what Naturalist commitments are at stake vis-a-vis Nozickian political thought, or political thought in general.
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    I can't speak for other naturalists, I'm sure some must think as I do but I've not met or read too many. I know that some naturalists feel that natural rights can be derived from an examination of nature and drawing conclusions from it applicable to human behavior. Personally I don't see much in the way of rights stemming from that so much as moral obligations that would stem from it.

    My view is that rights are social constructs. They don't have any practical meaning outside the context of society. To claim they are natural generally means the would come from something other than human invention, and if they only have meaning in human society then that becomes a self defeating argument. Without human society there are no rights so they can't be "natural" in that sense. (Again, this is a naturalist view, if you believe in a god then god can dictate a set of rights for human society, but that doesn't make it natural in the same sense, more dictated by supreme authority.)

    Furthermore I think it is a useless appeal to argue for natural rights. You could have a right to nearly anything but if society doesn't agree to protect or uphold it in some way its just empty talk. Virtue for instance is something that can exist outside society. You can have all kinds of virtues all on your own. But rights are ways we treat one another and they require a social structure and agreement and the terms of that agreement are those said same rights. A violation of rights is dissonance inside that social construct.

    Mind you exactly what is a given society is complicated, especially in this day and age where nearly anyone on earth can build community with nearly anyone else. We come ever closer to a global universal society at which point any widely recognized right (say to not be murdered) becomes nearly universal which is effectively the same as a claim to a natural right.

    One way in which you can say that a right is natural is that common human desire leads to societies to all propose common rights such as the protection of ones life. Nature gives rise to desire and that desire gives rise to social rights established to fulfill those desires. But I think this is distinct from the standard construction of natural rights which is that they pre-exist society itself again I say that the meaning of right, requires a social context to have any real meaning.

    I would say that an ideal formulation of human rights would be the one that under the current circumstances best fulfills the widest range of human desires with a priority to those most essential.

    I think the only universal moral (not a right) that we can look to from nature is simply that a species should act to ensure its survival (otherwise any code of behavior is pointless as it will no longer exist). But again, this is generally not something that "rights" as we understand them ensure beyond perhaps a right to life which itself could be forfeit for a "greater good" and thus lost as a personal right.
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  5. #4
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by Clive
    You could go the utilitarian route and say that natural laws are merely those practices and standards of behavior which tend to lead societies to exhibit certain desirable features, or the like.
    Which would then prompt, I imagine, the normal objections to utilitarian ethics (intermediate evil, subjective goals, etc).

    Perhaps though there would be some kind of appeal to a natural order akin to physical laws, something inherent in the universe.

    To take a stab in the dark something like emergence (which seems to be a natural principle) which would require a right to communicate with others. Not a thorough defense, I recognize, but just a hypothetical structure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Clive
    At any rate, it's not at all clear to me what Naturalist commitments are at stake vis-a-vis Nozickian political thought, or political thought in general.
    I would imagine that the scope and permanence of rights would be relevant to this question. If, for example, a naturalist held that rights are simply a social construct, than there really are no such things as human rights in general, and certainly no such things as fundamental human rights. (I’m not arguing good or bad, or right or wrong, just trying to explore the consequences of such a position.)


    Side note: I’m not necessarily asking about natural rights, just rights in general and the conception from a naturalist point of view.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sig
    My view is that rights are social constructs. They don't have any practical meaning outside the context of society.
    Having read through the rest of your post, it seems as if you are almost equating rights to something Hayek called ‘the law’ (as opposed to legislation). A set of rules that form as part of a group to maximize the value of the group to the individuals (hope that makes sense).

    The best example I can think of is in Hockey. There is legislation (no high sticking), and there is law (you shouldn’t have to unnecessarily checked) which is enforced internal to the group.
    So rights might well develop, in your view, from an unguided process by a society or group, towards an end that the group shares (even if they don’t consciously realize it). But they only exist as part of a group consensus of a sort that arises from the group formation.

    I realize that comes off a bit vague, but does any of that strike you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sig
    To claim they are natural generally means the would come from something other than human invention, and if they only have meaning in human society then that becomes a self defeating argument.
    Hmm, I’m not sure that that would necessarily become a self-defeating argument. I think any natural law would only apply within the construct it operates within. Gravity only operates with systems that have mass for example.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sig
    Furthermore I think it is a useless appeal to argue for natural rights. You could have a right to nearly anything but if society doesn't agree to protect or uphold it in some way its just empty talk.
    This, I think, answers one of my OP questions. So you would, at very least, include positive rights within your definition of the term?
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    I always have a hard time talking about how I regard things like rights in an objective sense, mostly because the conversation usually starts off with the glaring fact that I have no external “right giver” to which I can appeal that “rights” flow from.

    Also, as much as I try to stay well-read on topics like this, I have a notoriously unreliable memory and I forget who said what and why, so I end up just saying what I think without using very much familiar, philosophical language. I'm sure that can be frustrating for readers.

    To the first part, when someone says something like “But without a right giver, how can you say that rights exist?”, I genuinely don’t see the problem. What I mean is, I understand the philosophical dilemma in terms of “objective” rights, but I don’t feel the force of that problem because I don’t feel the presence of such a right-giver in the same sense that (for example) a theist might feel such a presence.

    To the second, I tend to see “rights” as social constructs where people more or less agree on what rights exist, and because we (society) tend to agree on these things, we have a system that tends to automatically correct violations of rights when they arise. So, to the extent that “we” accept and sustain the free exercise of these rights, “we”, collectively, are the “right-giver”.

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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by Dionysus View Post
    I always have a hard time talking about how I regard things like rights in an objective sense, mostly because the conversation usually starts off with the glaring fact that I have no external “right giver” to which I can appeal that “rights” flow from.

    Also, as much as I try to stay well-read on topics like this, I have a notoriously unreliable memory and I forget who said what and why, so I end up just saying what I think without using very much familiar, philosophical language. I'm sure that can be frustrating for readers.

    To the first part, when someone says something like “But without a right giver, how can you say that rights exist?”, I genuinely don’t see the problem. What I mean is, I understand the philosophical dilemma in terms of “objective” rights, but I don’t feel the force of that problem because I don’t feel the presence of such a right-giver in the same sense that (for example) a theist might feel such a presence.

    To the second, I tend to see “rights” as social constructs where people more or less agree on what rights exist, and because we (society) tend to agree on these things, we have a system that tends to automatically correct violations of rights when they arise. So, to the extent that “we” accept and sustain the free exercise of these rights, “we”, collectively, are the “right-giver”.
    That's not a very satisfying account of rights, to me. For instance, I think we'd be worse off, rights-wise, if every nation in the world collectively decided that enslaving blacks was cool again. But if rights are merely social constructs like, say, language, then I could no more object to a society having the "wrong" rights than I could object to a society speaking the "wrong" language.
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    That's not a very satisfying account of rights, to me. For instance, I think we'd be worse off, rights-wise, if every nation in the world collectively decided that enslaving blacks was cool again. But if rights are merely social constructs like, say, language, then I could no more object to a society having the "wrong" rights than I could object to a society speaking the "wrong" language.
    Yeah, this is pretty much the standard objection when a non-theist says they view things like “rights” and “morality” as social constructs. Like I say, I understand the philosophical objection; I just don’t find it problematic or persuasive relative to my perception of what rights are and how they emerge.

    Maybe it would help me to understand what it is about non-naturalistic rights that you find appealing or satisfying. In what way does the concept satisfy you? In what way does it appeal to you?

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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    Having read through the rest of your post, it seems as if you are almost equating rights to something Hayek called ‘the law’ (as opposed to legislation). A set of rules that form as part of a group to maximize the value of the group to the individuals (hope that makes sense).
    Certainly not far from the mark. I'll say that there are codified rights and non-codified ones. AKA some rights the state creates rules to use its power to enforce, others tend to be enforced through social norms and the like. The line between the two is stark in that some things are laws and some are not, and fuzzy in terms of which ones become laws and which ones don't.

    The best example I can think of is in Hockey. There is legislation (no high sticking), and there is law (you shouldn’t have to unnecessarily checked) which is enforced internal to the group.
    So rights might well develop, in your view, from an unguided process by a society or group, towards an end that the group shares (even if they don’t consciously realize it). But they only exist as part of a group consensus of a sort that arises from the group formation.
    Pretty much, again, I'm interested in why they are or are not legislation, but ultimately that is about whether monopoly of force is applied to them, and not about the principle that defines them. In this case as an analogy I would say; outside of the context of hockey, what meaning does unnecessary checking have? How can it be a principle transcending hockey when it only has meaning in the context of hockey?

    I realize that comes off a bit vague, but does any of that strike you?
    Thoughtful.

    Hmm, I’m not sure that that would necessarily become a self-defeating argument. I think any natural law would only apply within the construct it operates within. Gravity only operates with systems that have mass for example.
    Yes. Without mass gravity is meaningless, non existent in fact. Similarly without human society, human morality is meaningless and non existent.

    This, I think, answers one of my OP questions. So you would, at very least, include positive rights within your definition of the term?
    I think that positive and negative rights are useful categories in understanding how you go about ensuring such rights. I know some people advocate that only negative rights are true rights and that I don't agree with, simply for the fact that since they are socially defined we determine what is and is not a right and are thus categorically not bound to only recognize one category of rights.

    ---------- Post added at 11:31 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:19 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    That's not a very satisfying account of rights, to me. For instance, I think we'd be worse off, rights-wise, if every nation in the world collectively decided that enslaving blacks was cool again. But if rights are merely social constructs like, say, language, then I could no more object to a society having the "wrong" rights than I could object to a society speaking the "wrong" language.
    Indeed, it definitely is not satisfying to many people, then again neither is death. And for both we come up with a lot of reasons to believe it isn't what it appears to be.

    For me, the key lies in understanding that I don't have to agree with society. If they all think that blacks should be slaves, I don't have to accept that. They may have the power to make it so, but I also have the power to gather the power to make it not so again. I have to trust that at some level my fellow human beings have similar emotions and reason such that I can persuade them and that as time and culture accumulate knowledge things get better. By and large I feel confident that things improve and our morality gets mostly better over time rather than worse.
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  12. #9
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    That's not a very satisfying account of rights, to me. For instance, I think we'd be worse off, rights-wise, if every nation in the world collectively decided that enslaving blacks was cool again. But if rights are merely social constructs like, say, language, then I could no more object to a society having the "wrong" rights than I could object to a society speaking the "wrong" language.
    I don't know, I always find this kind of an appeal to "objectivity" or "naturalness" as something that very superficially sounds good, but really is just unthoughtful and fails to solve any of the problems raised in these questions.


    1.) Firstly, okay for the sake of argument, let's just grant you wholesale that these "Natural Rights" exist (again, I'm not sure what this verb means in this context, other than "All humans are supposed to respect other animals Natural Rights"). But okay, fine, they exist. So now what? What problem does this now solve which couldn't have been solved before?

    Because now it seems we're back to the usual problem when one tries to justify a moral statement or right by fiat of some commandment. How do you know whether or not something is an Natural Right, which does not appeal to cultural tradition or personal feelings, as opposed to a Contingent Rights or, worse, Natural Prohibitions? How do you make progress on this? Because without being able to directly appeal to some objective standard (And by objective, I mean that everyone can agree upon, again, independent of religion, creed, or cultural baggage), I can't see how declaring that there are "Natural Rights" furthers this discussion at any level. It seems to me the best that you can do is say "Look, here's a list of things that I think are rights, now I'm going to declare them all to be Natural Rights and you have to obey them.", which is little more than a rhetorical bludgeon. Okay, you can write down a list of things that are rights and sure that's objectively a list, but I think that you have profoundly confused something that is objectively a list of things with something that's a list of objective things.


    2.) So okay, let's illustrate this by taking your example. So we know that "Clive feels that it is morally wrong to enslave blacks." and that "Clive is glad that Natural Rights exist to keep people from enslaving blacks."

    Clive, I challenge you to use the existence of Natural Rights to prove that "It is a violation of a human's Natural Right to be enslaved." without appealing to "I feel that people shouldn't be enslaved." or "commonsense" as intermediary lemmas.


    Of course, you obviously cannot, and because of this, it fails to engage the question at any level. Why not just engage honestly about this question from the start --and admit openly that this is about what humans feel that they should and should not be able to to do to other humans in order promote the kind of civilization that they want to live in-- rather than obfuscating the issue with metaphysical pomp and unjustifiable ontological commitments? Isn't it sufficient to say "I don't want to live in a society's that has slavery because I have seen the results of such actions, I don't like them, and therefore I will be part of a system that protects both myself and other people's right not to be a slave"? Sure, you can declare by fiat that "I feel that X is a right because it's a Natural Right", but I can't see how it adds anything substantive to the conversation. Because to me, the conversation seems to be what kind of society I want to live in and what I'm willing to do to promote and protect that society. And Natural Rights seem to neither further than conversation nor be a necessary part of that conversation.
    Last edited by GoldPhoenix; May 11th, 2015 at 09:37 AM.
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  14. #10
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by GP
    Clive, I challenge you to use the existence of Natural Rights to prove that "It is a violation of a human's Natural Right to be enslaved." without appealing to "I feel that people shouldn't be enslaved." or "commonsense" as intermediary lemmas.
    I'm not sure what this question even means, honestly. Naively it would seem that there could be versions of natural rights in which, say, slavery is moral.

    Quote Originally Posted by GP
    Why not just engage honestly about this question from the start --and admit openly that this is about what humans feel that they should and should not be able to to do to other humans in order promote the kind of civilization that they want to live in-- rather than obfuscating the issue with metaphysical pomp and unjustifiable ontological commitments?
    There's two senses in which this statement is problematic:

    (1) Irrelevance: Yes, the reason why anyone would have a discussion about such a topic is based on psychological factors, including that person's desiring to have such a discussion, that person's sense that the topic is important, etc. The same holds true for, say, discussions about scientific results, mathematical theorems, etc. But the problem at hand is not to account for the psychological motivations of people having discussions (which is, in essence, an empirical question), but rather what sorts of rights frameworks are compatible or especially well-grounded in a naturalist worldview?

    (2) Triviality: Every participant in every discussion on a topic will give what they think is the best response--including discussions about scientific results, mathematical theorems, etc. There's no need to "admit" that people deliver what they take to be their best-thought-out personal positions on an issue, because any mature discussion among adults will have this feature.

    "I don't want to live in a society's that has slavery because I have seen the results of such actions, I don't like them, and therefore I will be part of a system that protects both myself and other people's right not to be a slave"?
    This is similar to STEM majors' reactions to art criticism: "Geez, what's the big deal, either you like it or you don't!"

    More thoughtful people will want to go beyond that most superficial stage and think about why such a reaction was evoked, and investigate whether there are good reasons to think the reaction was justified, unjustified, reliable, unreliable, well-formed, not-well-formed, etc.

    ---------- Post added at 12:42 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:32 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Dionysus
    Yeah, this is pretty much the standard objection when a non-theist says they view things like “rights” and “morality” as social constructs. Like I say, I understand the philosophical objection; I just don’t find it problematic or persuasive relative to my perception of what rights are and how they emerge.
    This seems like a curious response. I find the "social construct" account problematic because it doesn't comport with how I think about rights, or how many others think about rights (many people will, say, object to the system of rights promulgated by the Nazis in a way that is unjustifiable on the 'social construct' view, as I argued earlier).

    How rights emerge is an interesting question, because it illustrates how important it is to distinguish between two relevant senses of rights. There is a legal-socio-historical account of rights--something like, "What rights have been protected by various societies, both in the past and in present-day?"--which is to be sharply distinguished from a philosophical or ontological account of rights.

    Presumably reasonable people of every philosophical stripe can come to some sort of agreement on the former (whether or not Rome protected a right to free speech for its citizens, whether such-and-such a tribe enforced such-and-such a system of rights, etc.) while being free to disagree on the latter. Questions about the former do not, strictly speaking, bear on the latter, and vice versa.
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  16. #11
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    This seems like a curious response.
    Well, relative to the questions I asked, this is in fact a curious response.

    I'm not really interested in debating my position just yet, because I'm contributing to this thread under the impression that this is more a discussion than a debate. I'm not interested in debating this; I've come to despise the antagonistic nature of debate.

    So in light of that, giving me reasons why you don't like my position doesn't really help me understand why you do like yours. Sure, I can infer some things, but I'd prefer a more straightforward answer, if that's ok. If I understand where you're coming from, I can at least appreciate it more, which is all I'm really after here.

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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    I'm not sure what this question even means, honestly. Naively it would seem that there could be versions of natural rights in which, say, slavery is moral.
    Right, but that's precisely the problem. When you say "naively" it could go either way, what you mean is "There really isn't an objective framework with which to derive results." Notice that when we don't have this problem when we're talking about things which actually do have "objective" or "natural" standards like math or science. There's no way you can say "Well, I could imagine that the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra is false and I could imagine that it's true." There is a verifiable answer to the question. Again, tossing on the metaphysical pomp does nothing to help us arrive at which propositions are actually metaphysical "Natural Rights®" and which are just the "fake ones" that "humans made up."

    Spoiler alert: So far as anyone can justify, all of them fall in the latter category.


    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    There's two senses in which this statement is problematic:

    (1) Irrelevance: Yes, the reason why anyone would have a discussion about such a topic is based on psychological factors, including that person's desiring to have such a discussion, that person's sense that the topic is important, etc. The same holds true for, say, discussions about scientific results, mathematical theorems, etc. But the problem at hand is not to account for the psychological motivations of people having discussions (which is, in essence, an empirical question), but rather what sorts of rights frameworks are compatible or especially well-grounded in a naturalist worldview?
    Your objection seems misplaced.

    1.) Dio stated that he thought rights were social constructs, which going from Jeremy Bentham onward has been a standard (but not exclusive) position for metaphysical naturalists. You counter of this amounted to "But, I can't object to things unless there's metaphysics supporting it!" and my response was to your statement, and was not on the issue of a Metaphysical Naturalist's justification of rights. If there is a Natural Right that says "Slavery is a violation of Natural Rights", but it's impossible to verify this statement, then I'm sorry but I find that to be an incredibly unsatisfactory (lack of an) account for rights, and, in any case, it seems to have wholly nothing to do with why I believe that slavery is wrong. So I don't see why I'm moving the conversation away from the discussion of a well-grounded notion of natural rights.


    2.) To directly address the OP, I don't accept that Natural Rights exist. Rights exist, they're placed into laws and respected by people because human beings have sentiments that they shouldn't hurt other people for no reason, etc. Thus I think the entire discussion of rights is social in nature and a social contract. If we change the conversation to metaphysical entities whose truth values cannot be obtained, then we're arguing over how many angels can fit through a pin head rather than answering any question like "Should slavery be banned?" and if we continue in this conversation, we'll never make progress on the issue of slavery.

    At the end of the day, I have what I think what people should be allowed to do and what I think they shouldn't be, and other people have theirs. Then a vote is cast, and it becomes a right or it doesn't. It's pretty straightforward. What's not straightforward is collecting experiences, reading other people's experiences, and reflecting on what kind of a society that I'd like to live in. What's an actually hard problem is then what steps need to be taken to promote and protect that society.


    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples
    (2) Triviality: Every participant in every discussion on a topic will give what they think is the best response--including discussions about scientific results, mathematical theorems, etc. There's no need to "admit" that people deliver what they take to be their best-thought-out personal positions on an issue, because any mature discussion among adults will have this feature.
    1.) Yes, and for a scientific discussion that's not very good. You need to have serious evidence, serious understanding and knowledge, etc, to come to truths. But I'm denying the objective existence of rights entirely. Rights don't hold ontological status, they're things that exist only in people's minds, and they hold value to minds/persons because rights are a useful construct to help maintain a society that that person wants to be a part of.


    2.) I'm not saying that I think people weren't giving a heart-felt response to rights and I was just cajoling them to do so. I'm asking people not to take what they feel should be the case, and turn it into some fictitious metaphysical "Law of Natural Rights" that then everyone must conform to. We all feel that we're right about rights, it's a tautology that we do. People have to sit down and acquiesce them, however, before this notion of rights comes to mean anything. So as a society, it's important that people get together and discuss the relevant ethical issues of the day, and democratically come to a conclusion. This is how slavery was dealt with. People sat down and reflected upon the nature of slavery, and really asked themselves "Do I think that slavery should be permissible in my society?" The nearly universal answer --except by those who made money off of slavery-- was "Nope." Those that owned slaves and didn't want to submit themselves to the majority's opinions were compelled to cede the rights of blacks not because of some ethereal Natural Rights, but because the US, as a society, fought a war against the slave owners and their armies, which then ended slavery.

    Quote Originally Posted by Clive
    This is similar to STEM majors' reactions to art criticism: "Geez, what's the big deal, either you like it or you don't!"

    More thoughtful people will want to go beyond that most superficial stage and think about why such a reaction was evoked, and investigate whether there are good reasons to think the reaction was justified, unjustified, reliable, unreliable, well-formed, not-well-formed, etc.
    Well, yes, indeed. But this conversation isn't occurring in a universe where there are Natural Rights that we all agree upon and we're coming to recognize them. This is a conversation where people are agreeing on what kind of a society they want to live in, what kinds of actions that they think other people should be permitted to do, which actions they shouldn't be permitted to do, etc. For this discussion I largely take up the position of virtue ethics and some notion of human flourishing.
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  19. #13
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    When you say "naively" it could go either way, what you mean is "There really isn't an objective framework with which to derive results."


    What I mean is, "I'm not a natural-rights theorist so I'm not sure what problems pop up for different natural-rights frameworks."

    Notice that when we don't have this problem when we're talking about things which actually do have "objective" or "natural" standards like math or science. There's no way you can say "Well, I could imagine that the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra is false and I could imagine that it's true." There is a verifiable answer to the question. Again, tossing on the metaphysical pomp does nothing to help us arrive at which propositions are actually metaphysical "Natural Rights®" and which are just the "fake ones" that "humans made up."
    I don't know what you mean by "metaphysical pomp". If you're interested in what kind of natural rights there are, you're asking a metaphysical question (unless you take a reductive view of natural rights--e.g. socio-historical--in which case you're still answering the metaphysical question, just with something like naturalism).

    The uncharitable interpretation of your remarks would be that metaphysics is dumb and the only non-dumb position regarding natural rights is reductionist, positions that require arguments to support them, as well as counter-arguments against the various positions sketched against naive reductionism by political and moral philosophers (not to mention the philosophers of metaphysics).
    Last edited by Squatch347; May 12th, 2015 at 06:14 AM. Reason: Tag Edit
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    I continue to find the #1 objection to a view of rights as a social construct is....

    "I find it disconcerting because things I think should or should not be rights might not be upheld by society depending on popular opinion."

    I can understand and sympathise but I don't see it as any kind of real argument about the nature of the world, only about how we would like it to be. And its fair to argue, "we should adopt immutable rights so that there can be no errors" but then the problem is... how do you do that? How do you know what the correct ones are? How do you deal with the needs of changing circumstance? How do you get people to go along with your formulation and not their own?

    No matter what is true about rights, you have to fight it out in the social context to make it work, and that is exactly what folks like me say is the way it works. All you get the other way around is frustration that the way you think it should be isn't the way it is.
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples View Post
    What I mean is, "I'm not a natural-rights theorist so I'm not sure what problems pop up for different natural-rights frameworks."
    Well, let's clarify then, because I assumed, perhaps unfairly, that you think that natural rights do exist. You said:

    "That's not a very satisfying account of rights, to me. For instance, I think we'd be worse off, rights-wise, if every nation in the world collectively decided that enslaving blacks was cool again. But if rights are merely social constructs like, say, language, then I could no more object to a society having the "wrong" rights than I could object to a society speaking the 'wrong' language."

    If such was your point, then my point was that this objection holds water if and only if you already buy into the proposition "The only way that I can object to other country's political policies is if I believe that Natural Rights hold ontological status and I can appeal to these to objectively declare that what they're doing is wrong." If you do not buy into this premise, and instead, for instance, buy into the premise that notions of rights (or ethics) are statements about the world that we want to live in, then this whole objection of yours is bypassed. For instance, I do not believe that there is an objective reason why "The Saudi Arabian oppression of women is wrong." It doesn't stop me from feeling that it's wrong, and directly or indirectly getting involved in stopping it.

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples
    I don't know what you mean by "metaphysical pomp". If you're interested in what kind of natural rights there are, you're asking a metaphysical question (unless you take a reductive view of natural rights--e.g. socio-historical--in which case you're still answering the metaphysical question, just with something like naturalism).
    Yeah, but my main point is that I reject their ontological status (In other words, the rights that we talk about in political conversations are social or mental constructs, not normative propositions that are "real"). Rights are what a person believes them to be, but they only really matter if their society agrees to respect them. Societies that respect them seem to be more successful (by most human standards) than societies that do not respect them. This is where we can get into a virtue ethics discussion of whether or not particular rights lead to flourishing, but only if we buy into a definition of flourishing and agree that we want to live in a flourishing society. Ultimately, I think this is how almost all ethical disputes (the rest being via force) are resolved amongst humans.


    For instance, the recent flip on gay rights that America has had; 10 years ago, gay rights were clearly not rights. Now, 61% of people support gay rights. This happened, at least for me, because I met gay people and reconsidered what negative effects homosexuality had on society, which is none, and that made me believe homosexual rights are something that should be recognized by the state.

    Quote Originally Posted by CliveStaples
    The uncharitable interpretation of your remarks would be that metaphysics is dumb and the only non-dumb position regarding natural rights is reductionist, positions that require arguments to support them, as well as counter-arguments against the various positions sketched against naive reductionism by political and moral philosophers (not to mention the philosophers of metaphysics).
    1.) I didn't say metaphysics was stupid; also, I don't know what you mean by "reductionist" in this context. I delineated the inherent limits of metaphysics. It's not like I can even claim these points about metaphysics are my own. To do so would be incredibly intellectually dishonest because credit belongs to well-known philosophical manuscripts, e.g. Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Kant's A Critique of Pure Reason, John Stuart Mill's A System of Logic, and other important points raised by Logical Positivists (Ayer, et al.) and some form of agreement with Logical Atomists (Wittgenstein's Two Dogmas of Empiricism; although he still believed that there might be a priori synthetic statements and I'm not sure I buy this). My views aren't some unthoughtful, pseudo-philosophical opinions that amount to naďve reductionism and scientism. This is basically bread-and-butter post-Enlightenment philosophy, which is extremely careful and thoughtful (and put together by some of the greatest minds in philosophy). That doesn't make them correct and it doesn't mean there aren't detractors, historical and contemporary, but let's not hold the pretense that the epistemic framework that I'm working from is either my own or some highly naďve philosophy. Metaphysics is an essential part of philosophy, but let's also not hold the pretense that it isn't without limitations or that philosophers (including metaphysicians) aren't aware of these issues.

    2.) Many of the arguments were sketched, Clive. I explained the epistemic problems associated to Natural Rights and how they cannot solve ethical disputes over what constitutes a right and what doesn't. You can choose to attack those arguments, you can be unconvinced by them, but you can't say that I didn't give them. If you think that I've missed some really important point about metaphysics that really does need to be handled with more care, then please raise this issue, but it's not really good argumentation to just point to the potential existence of problems and call this is a defeater.
    Last edited by GoldPhoenix; May 12th, 2015 at 02:29 PM.
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  23. #16
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Ok, so having reviewed some great discussion by everyone here, let me see if I can draw some initial conclusions.

    It would seem that the consensus (such as there is one) is that rights within a naturalist framework are generally social conventions. They are “should be” type statements about societal organization.

    This would seem to also answer my two other questions from the OP (feel free to correct me).

    1) Rights cannot be said to be objective, they are determined by societal consensus (or mechanism) and can change between cultures or over time.

    2) There is no inherent reason for rights to be only positive or negative within this frame work, both would seem logically permissible.

    Are these fair conclusions?
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    It would seem that the consensus (such as there is one) is that rights within a naturalist framework are generally social conventions. They are “should be” type statements about societal organization.
    Among naturalists here yes. I have read arguments for naturalist rights stemming from observation of nature, biological imperative etc... But no point arguing over something no one here is promoting. Just wanted to mention in case anyone felt like reading about them, it was interesting.

    1) Rights cannot be said to be objective, they are determined by societal consensus (or mechanism) and can change between cultures or over time.
    That is my take.

    2) There is no inherent reason for rights to be only positive or negative within this frame work, both would seem logically permissible.
    I think so. Not 100% confident for all cases but in general yes.
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  26. #18
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch347 View Post
    Ok, so having reviewed some great discussion by everyone here, let me see if I can draw some initial conclusions.

    It would seem that the consensus (such as there is one) is that rights within a naturalist framework are generally social conventions. They are “should be” type statements about societal organization.

    This would seem to also answer my two other questions from the OP (feel free to correct me).

    1) Rights cannot be said to be objective, they are determined by societal consensus (or mechanism) and can change between cultures or over time.
    Well, there's what a person thinks ought to be be right, there's what society's averaged opinion is on what ought and ought not be rights, and then there's what the government legally defines as a right.

    For instance, 61% of the population thinks gay marriage is a right, but it is not currently a right in the US (although it is in 30 something states). But a little more time will turn it into a legal right.

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch
    2) There is no inherent reason for rights to be only positive or negative within this frame work, both would seem logically permissible.
    I think I just reject that this is a meaningful distinction, and, quite frankly, that it's even one that you can cleanly divide all rights into. For instance, I have a right not to be murdered. Is that a negative or a positive right? I have the right to an expected outcome (not to be murdered), but it's also true that it's keeping me from being interfered with (i.e. not murdered). In fact, I think the whole problem this concept is that to make the divide, we have to agree to a definition of "interfere" and "guaranteed outcome."
    Last edited by Squatch347; May 19th, 2015 at 09:25 AM.
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by GoldPhoenix View Post
    Well, there's what a person thinks ought to be be right, there's what society's averaged opinion is on what ought and ought not be rights, and then there's what the government legally defines as a right.
    Which would seem to be in concordance with my summation that rights are not objective within a naturalist framework, or am I misunderstanding?


    Quote Originally Posted by GP
    I think I just reject that this is a meaningful distinction, and, quite frankly, that it's even one that you can cleanly divide all rights into. For instance, I have a right not to be murdered. Is that a negative or a positive right?
    I don't think this is anything different than simply pointing out that you can mean any right statement as a positive or negative version if you imbue it with some context. The positive/negative aspect of a right come from the right's context, not from its phrasing.

    I can frame the right to free speech as both a positive or negative right by adding context (you have the right to speak uninterfered with or you must be guaranteed the opportunity to speak). This right only looks different because of the double negative type construction. It could easily be rephrased as "you have the right to life." Which fits the construct a bit better, and (just as with your construct) could be contextually driven as either a positive or negative right.

    But not to veer of course too much, it would seem that you would also reject the idea then that rights in a naturalist context have any such limitations (valid or artificial) and could easily contain the whole spectrum. Correct?
    "Suffering lies not with inequality, but with dependence." -Voltaire
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    Re: Rights within a Naturalist framework

    Quote Originally Posted by GoldPhoenix
    I think I just reject that this is a meaningful distinction, and, quite frankly, that it's even one that you can cleanly divide all rights into. For instance, I have a right not to be murdered. Is that a negative or a positive right? I have the right to an expected outcome (not to be murdered), but it's also true that it's keeping me from being interfered with (i.e. not murdered). In fact, I think the whole problem this concept is that to make the divide, we have to agree to a definition of "interfere" and "guaranteed outcome."
    Just to pop in for a moment: I think there's a commonly-accepted distinction between taking action and refraining from action. See e.g. the different responses to the trolley problem.

    A negative right requires people to refrain from certain actions (like stabbing you in the face), while positive rights require people to take certain actions (like listening to your breathing with a stethoscope). It's a useful distinction to have because sometimes you care about guaranteeing that a certain decision occurs (a doctor providing medical care), and sometimes you care about guaranteeing that a certain decision doesn't occur (a person stabbing you in the face).

    Of course, from the perspective of an individual, it only matters which decisions are "Rights-respecting" or "Rights-breaking", so decider is only interested in which sets of decisions each right excludes or includes. So the positive/negative distinction isn't quite so useful in this circumstance.

    ---------- Post added at 11:31 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:26 AM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by Squatch
    1) Rights cannot be said to be objective, they are determined by societal consensus (or mechanism) and can change between cultures or over time.
    This isn't quite right. Under a social-contract or majoritarian view, rights aren't independent of human consensus, but a naturalist might very well think that they are objective.

    If I'm truly committed to the notion that rights are whatever the U.S. and state constitutions decide they are, then there is still an objectively correct answer to whether free speech is a right (yes) and whether same-sex marriage is a right (yes in some states, no in others). So the naturalist isn't committed to saying, "Well, we each have our own subjective views of what rights there are!", and could criticize someone for having the wrong subjective view of what rights there are.
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