TCS Daily


Rights Schmights

By Max Borders - January 19, 2006 12:00 AM

In "The Metaphysics of Conservatism" Ed Feser presents an annotated history of Western philosophy with the hope of guiding us to the idea of Natural Rights. He doesn't say that outright, but it's clear that Feser is concerned about the loss of certain principles summoned from "natural law." Such principles might tell us that:

[E]very single living human body... counts as the body of a person and as a being having all the rights of a person...

Thus, we can summarize Feser's conclusions rather crudely as follows: In the absence of realist metaphysics, Natural Rights would be impossible. And in the absence of Natural Rights, humanity would be lost in the void.

But is this the case? Do we really need Feser's ancient metaphysics to have rights?

Enter great thinkers like James Buchanan, David Gauthier and Jan Narveson who allow you to eat your cake and have it to. They let us socially construct our reality by inviting each of us to play off of one another's individual interests.

Consider the anti-Platonic tradition of Hobbes that started, perhaps, with the character of Glaucon in Plato's Republic who said:

They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but that the evil is greater than the good. And so when men have both done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, not being able to avoid the one and obtain the other, they think that they had better agree among themselves to have neither; hence there arise laws and mutual covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just. This they affirm to be the origin and nature of justice; it is a mean or compromise, between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and the worst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation; and justice, being at a middle point between the two, is tolerated not as a good, but as the lesser evil, and honored by reason of the inability of men to do injustice.

In Glaucon's account, justice (rights) doesn't have to exist for us to have them, rather they are the product of agreement.

An analogy can help illustrate this. How is it that something that one piece of fibrous paper and another of the exact same shape, size and ink content can be worth $100 and $1 -- respectively? Well, currency is a good example of socially constructed reality. Of course, in the days of the gold standard, we might be able to go into a bank and get gold in exchange for our bank notes. But then again gold is subjectively valuable due to its rarity, beauty, or its relative preciousness in the eyes of those who want it. In any case, those subjective forces balance against one another creating what we call a market price in gold. So whether or not currency is ersatz gold, nothing detracts from the primary point: Things are valuable in as much as people agree that they are.

When we leverage the subjective interests of others against our own, some very interesting things start to happen. With luck, we come to a kind of concord. In the case of money, we agree that this piece of paper is worth $100 and this one is worth $1. And we move mountains. No metaphysics necessary.

So in the case of rights, they do exist in the sense that money exists. But they aren't mysterious essences that, a la Feser, inhere in physical human bodies (any more than the souls that supposedly animate them). Rights are the convenient and rational human artifices that are contrived from mutual agreement among people willing -- collectively -- to lay down their "absolute right" to harm others in exchange for not being harmed. More or less this is the way social contract thought works -- and a whole discipline of Rational Choice was born out of it.

As Buchanan might have put it, we can assume a costly predatorial/defensive posture, or we can cooperate. And cooperative strategies tend to benefit any given individual over time, more than the unilateral strategies of a predator, cheater, or thief (i.e. one who defects from the contract) -- especially when we add the disincentives of enforcement and punishment. Gauthier argues very well for a social contract along similar lines and adds that, in the context of human community over time, it never really makes sense to be a defector. And Narveson might round out this overview both by dispelling any idea that a social contract is utilitarian and adding that -- where appropriate -- we can be very libertarian in our interpretation of social contract theory.

The foregoing is self-evidently why we don't, and shouldn't, give as many rights to criminals, enemies, or terrorists. When we do, we risk disrupting the very edifice that makes up our own socially constructed reality of rights. That is to say, we risk breaking our own social contract by allowing those who would do us harm to free-ride on our rights agreement -- thus nullifying it.

This doesn't mean we ever have a positive duty to "boil people alive" (or replace with your favorite blog-baiting form of torture); rather it means that the moral status of those outside of our political "rights compact," is sort of up for grabs. Notions of rights outside of our political regime become a fabrication of foreign policy expedience or PR-speak -- and are often necessary and useful ones as in the case of human rights.

But why shouldn't we believe in Natural Rights? After all, it's one thing to argue that we don't need rights to be part of our ontology in order to have them. But it's quite another to deny their existence to begin with.

My argument is that neither souls nor rights exist in the same way tables, atoms, matter and energy exist. And while there are a number of philosophical debates about whether or not you can truly know the existence of tables, atoms, and energy, science does a pretty good job of providing the pragmatic, instrumental and commonsensical reasons for believing they do. But souls and rights are a different matter (no pun). On these, science is silent. And for good reason: there are no such things as rights or souls.

Contractarian beliefs can be grounded in a meta-ethical form of skepticism that goes something like this:

  • If things we call rights (much like "good" and "bad") exist in the world, they must be something like tables, chairs, quarks, neutrinos, electricity -- i.e. something that we can discover through our usual methods of discovering that which exists. For me, like Quine, it's science. It's certainly not religious faith. This is not a slam against faith; it is simply noting a tautology. Faith, by my definition, is belief despite the complete absence of evidence (where evidence can be a combination of observations, causal footprints, or at least inference-systems linked into something observational).

  • Rights don't reveal themselves in our observations, nor exert themselves causally, nor show up even inferentially -- like radiation, quarks, or some other things do. And it's difficult to see how they would if they could. In fact, if rights were actually things-that-existed, they would -- as J. L. Mackie once said -- be things of a very "queer" sort.

Feser, like many libertarians and conservatives, is committed to the existence (in the strictest ontological sense) of rights. Of course, if we go looking for his kind of rights in the world, we will end up casting ourselves back into the void. If you don't believe me, try getting an NSF grant to discover Natural Rights. Feser's rights -- not to mention his souls -- are metaphysically queer entities. They, like the ghost of Christmas past, are sometimes useful fictions, but fictions nevertheless.

Feser and others might reply a la Kant, that Natural Rights are an animal more like logical proofs or mathematical entities such as triangles. Feser has already suggested that an anti-realist would look to evolutionary explanations for such phenomena. In my case, he would be right. Suffice it to say that debates about the ontological status of triangles can become baroque and technical to the point of absurdity. So in this context, I'll simply lean on the handle-side of Ockham's Razor and slice those entities away. Then I'd ask my reader to return to the coda: why do we need metaphysics when we can have rights by agreement?

Most conservatives and libertarians alike believe in some sort of Natural Rights, or the vaguer, less intellectually edifying "human rights." John Locke gave us the theological justification for rights, which most Conservatives buy. This justification is similar enough to arguments for creation in that it relies to some extent on the will of God. Of course, we'd better hold off on that discussion, because it might require that we settle the debate on whether God exists. And that's an argument for another day.

Max Borders is Managing Editor of TCS Daily.
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24 Comments

Existence of a soul
Message: But they aren’t mysterious essences that, a la Feser, inhere in physical human bodies (any more than the souls that supposedly animate them).

By definition a soul is something that exists both within and beyond normal space and time. It transcends space/time in a continuum between this apparent existence and ???. It has a reference here but does not 'exist' in the normal sense.
Rights, on the other hand, are something that many of us believe exist within what it means to be a complete human being, something that definitely has to do with this world and not the last/next.

The question really is should we at least act as if there are 'Natural rights' like civilized creatures or simply fight it out like any other animal?

Existence of a soul
Message: But they aren’t mysterious essences that, a la Feser, inhere in physical human bodies (any more than the souls that supposedly animate them).

By definition a soul is something that exists both within and beyond normal space and time. It transcends space/time in a continuum between this apparent existence and ???. It has a reference here but does not 'exist' in the normal sense.
Rights, on the other hand, are something that many of us believe exist within what it means to be a complete human being, something that definitely has to do with this world and not the last/next.

The question really is should we at least act as if there are 'Natural rights' like civilized creatures or simply fight it out like any other animal?

On Natural Rights
The Founders based the Constitution and the idea of the American Republic on the concept of Natural Rights, i.e., we are created with the rights to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness....", that no one can take from us.

If you are correct in your asumption that such Natural Rights do not exist, that any rights we enjoy are simply the product of societal agreement, than it is possible, perhaps likely, that someday, society will agree that we, as individuals or members of some unpopular group, should not enjoy the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When we stop thinking in the terms of Natural Rights, and instead, think in the terms of "agreed rights", we begin sliding down the slippery slope toward the loss of all our freedoms -- just ask the Japanese Americans interned through World War II.

Natural Rights are NOT Fiction
Natural Rights are not fiction. They are directly derived from the RELATIONSHIP of humans to their environment. A stone has a relationship to its environment, which can be explained in terms of the laws of physics. A tree, like a stone, also relates to its environment, but with the addition of a CAPACITY to survive. This means that the tree, unlike the stone, will physically adapt to its environment in order to survive. Humans are similar to trees with the additional CAPACITY of Rational Choice. Not only can humans physically adapt to survive, but they can modify themselves and the environment to improve their condition.

The US Constitution is not based on a metaphysical Natural Right, but on the completely observable and measurable nature of the human being…a nature characterized by the drive to survive and the capacity to choose. Humans freely form governments to enhance their survival/prosperity and self-direction opportunities through cooperation. While most “rights” are the product of agreement (read the UN charter), the right to life and liberty are not. They are what distinguish a human from a stone or a tree. They are the ONLY reason for the existence of Government. And a Government that extends beyond the protection of these rights looses its legitimacy.

Exactly right, DSmith
If you and I agree upon our rights then by deffinition they are not inallienable. That is, dependent on our agreements, we could subrogate our rights to others or they could disapear completely. This flies in the face of our Constitution. And that Gent over there who has his own concept of rights? He can go fly a kite, because he is not party to the agreement. In other words, as long as you can find a body of people capable of writing their own internally-consistent set of rights, their rights are as important as the rights we feel are handed by our Creator. The cultural relativism that this engenders is worrisome at the least.

Meanwhile, the author insists that Natural Rights should not be observed merely because he cannot see or touch them or prove them with science. I guess my question is, so what? By what rule or dictate is that an appropriate yardstick to measure the vallidity of a right? Why is it that an agreement between equals (equally as imeasurable, by the way) any way better than a right handed down from the Creator. I think the Author, regardless of his logic will eventually have to hang his assertion on some sort of pragmatic argument. But then, if we are arguing pragmatics and utilitarian viewpoints, then the entire string of rights falls apart and merely becomes tyranny of the majority. That is- the Social Contract should be observed merely because it is better for more people. Stalin made similar arguments about his government...

Good Point
This is a great way to fill in the Founder's agnostic reference to "The Creator" with a logical construct based on nature.

The important point is that by the very nature of us being human, we have the right to form a government, rather than by forming a government we have the right to be humans.

Rights Are Not Social Agreements
Max Borders or Ed Feser claims that "Rights are the convenient and rational human artifices that are contrived from mutual agreement among people willing -- collectively -- to lay down their “absolute right” to harm others in exchange for not being harmed." This is incorrect.

As Ayn Rand has pointed out decades ago, " a 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are itsconsequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life." Therefore, all rights pertain to "freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men."

Each person possesses "rights" because they must be free to act in order to live. This does not require any "agreement" of any kind among men, but does require that all men respect individual rights as absolute requirements of life, if they want to live.

Bingo!
What a marvellous essay. I was going to respond to
Ed Feser's essay, which I found very disappointing, not
to mention hard to follow, but this is a much better
response than I could have mustered.

I understand that the views expressed in this essay
frighten and offend many, but for the life of me
I cannot really fathom why.

The right to form what kind of a government?
I mean, humans have created an enormous range, including many real catastrophes. None are any more or less natural than any other. Government is necessary to secure and protect rights -- but many governments can't, or don't.

The coda
"Then I’d ask my reader to return to the coda: why do we need metaphysics when we can have rights by agreement?"

Because rights by agreement are subject to another force--the nature of any particular government. Agreement by who and for whom? In a democracy what if the "majority" decides that the "agreement" no longer covers say people with blue eyes? Is this not what happened in Germany? The "agreement" no longer applied to the Jews?

Of course natural, just as agreed upon, rights can be extinguished but at least it is more difficult for the transgressor(s) to justify, even if they are supported by the majority. And the target can rationalize: "They can oppress and imprison me, but I am at the essence free by the will of the Creator."

Border's nonsense outlines a philosophy of excuse for whatever is done "by agreement".

Noble Lies versus Noble Truths
The concern about slippery slopes is certainly
understandable.

But somehow it sounds like we should try to avoid
the slippery slope, which I agree is worrisome and
a problem, by adopting some Noble Lie. Yet another
inheritance from Plato that I don't agree with.

If I ever found the gumption to attempt to write a new,
improved version of _The Republic_ I would instead try
to introduce the idea of Noble Truths that we need
people to understand and deal with courageously in
order for democracies to work well.

The most charitable interpretation I can give to Plato,
at least in _The Republic_ was that he was being
facetious and intentionally provocative, purely as a
pe****gical tool to provoke animated discussion. But
then for millennia people have taken him seriously.

Value Schmalue
OK, let's take your money analogy to its logical conclusion. A paper $1 dollar bill has value simply because we all agree to give it that value. We understand that the value we assign to it is a strictly utilitarian value - that its "real" value, its true 'inherent' value is no more than any other scrap of paper. Meanwhile, a solid gold $1 coin has the same utilitarian value (you can buy just as much bread with it) but it also has some 'real' value, some 'inherent' value in and of itself, independent of any 'social contract'. (It can be shaped into useful, beautiful things; it cannot be burned like paper; it will never rust, or rot away.) But as long as we all agree to value them equally, there is no utilitarian difference between the values of the two. So far, so good. I agree. Unfortunately, when the house of cards which you refer to as a social contract falls apart (as they all eventually do) both dollars loose their "contractual value" leaving only their "inherent value". The paper dollar becomes a useless scrap of paper, and the gold coin becomes a chunk of precious metal.

Now, back to human rights. You argue that human rights are merely utilitarian social constructs, like the paper dollar. They are not based on the inherent value of the human, but rather on the social contract, the agreed to market value. If so, then they are really up for grabs. If the social contract of the day assigns you no value, then you have no value. Jews in Nazi Germany were not denied their human rights; they were simply "undervalued". (Actually, since value is defined by nothing other than what the market will bear, there is no such thing as "undervalued", because value itself is, like the market, flexible, unfixed, negotiable. Whatever value the market assigns is the true value.) Likewise, if you should discover that your market value has dropped below your maintenance cost (like Terri Schiavo, or any one of the other millions of humans who consume more than they produce) don't start crying about how you are endowed by your Creator with an "inalienable right" to life, because there aint no such thing. We, the "social contractors", will determine your rights for you.

I've followed your logic to its logical conclusion. I know (or at least I hope!) that you don't agree with all the logical extensions of your argument that I have presented above. But I would like to know how you can possibly hold the position you have proposed in your article and NOT come to these conclusions. If human rights are nothing more than social constructs, then they are completely contingent upon the social contract and must simply disappear when that social contract expires. If society (or the ruling government) decides that I have no rights, then I have no rights. Do you really think that Nazi Germany was some unexplainable aberration? Do you ACTUALLY believe that by re-writing the social contract, the ***** actually DESTROYED the Jews "right" to life? Or did the Jews have a "real" right to life, which the ***** could not destroy, because it was based on more than the social contract of the day? Where the ***** "wrong" in what they did, because the Jews were real people, with "real" rights, or did the ***** simply make choices that you personally, might not agree with?

Do you really think human nature is such that given the choice between devaluing the rights of others for personal gain, and valuing others above ourselves, we humans will choose the latter? Have you ever opened a history book? Have you ever looked around yourself? Have you ever looked INSIDE yourself?

Why not rip off Max Borders if one could get away with it?
Hey, if rights have the "ontological status of triangles" and "can become baroque and technical to the point of absurdity", then what gives agreements any special status that anyone should respect? If one could get away with making agreements and then violating them, why not?

I suppose one might keep agreements if one was afraid of being caught violating them. But if everyone felt that there was nothing ontologically special about agreements, then it would be impossible to enforce them. In that case, civil society would be impossible -- NO, ALL society would be impossible.

The simple metaphysical fact is that the laws of logic are absolute -- nothing in the universe violates the laws of logic. I can violate an agreement, or the rights of an entity of the nature as myself. But I can not escape the logical conclusion that there would be nothing "wrong" if someone did the same to me. One could not feel as if it was "right" to possess whatever was gained by such actions, or if one had committee murder, one could not ever feel that it is "right" that one continues to exist. One is blessed (or cursed, whatever the case may be) with the power of self-reflection.

Of course, I suppose Borders could reply that conscience itself has the "ontological status of triangles" and "can become baroque and technical to the point of absurdity".

Here's why.
The reason Feser's essay was hard to follow was that he had to spend the first half of it defining terms. Once he got that out of the way, he did a fine job.

And the reason that many (myself included) are "frightened and offended" by the oposing view expressed by Borders is because we've seen where that path leads. I hate to drag Nazi Germany into debates, because it is such an over-used analogy (when in doubt, compare your opponent to a Nazi) but in this case I can't help it. This is exactly the line of thinking that led the Nazi party to where they went. I rambled on way too long about this in a separate post below, but here are the highlights:

If human rights are nothing more than social constructs, then they are completely contingent upon the social contract and must simply disappear if that social contract denies them. If society (or the ruling government) decides that I have no rights, then I have no rights.

Do we ACTUALLY believe that by re-writing the social contract, the Nazi leaders actually DESTROYED the Jews "right" to life? Or did the Jews have a "real" right to life, which the Nazi government could not destroy, because it was based on more than the social contract of the day? Where they "wrong" in what they did, because the Jews were real people, with "real" rights, or did they simply make choices that you personally, might not agree with?

If Border is right, the Nuremburg trials were an injustice to the Nazi officers. We have no right to condemn them. They were simply acting according to the social contract of their day.

the Author is right your wrong
Rights are a human construct. If there was such a thing as a natural right then it could not be taken away. Most people believe that every one has a right to life does that mean capital punishment is wrong? By what right do we forfeit others rights? So called rights are exactly what the author says they are a social contract.

Shallow excuse for anything goes
There is no such thing as a social contract. Only individuals act. Therefore, only individuals can make contracts.
The author's (and your) arguments are flawed because individual's rights by his reckoning are subject to whatever the current "agreement" happens to be. This lays the foundation for all manner of abuses that can be heaped upon those out of favor. There is no way of condeming evil under the phony social construct of his imagination as evil is simply whatever those in power deem so. There is no absolute right or wrong by which all are judged---Broders' "system" is the ultimate in the modernists'relativist crap. You know, "if you can't be with the one you love, then love the one you're with".

Nobility vs. Common Man
"Natural Rights," as Thomas Paine championed during the Age of Reason, spoke of the equality among all men.

Although the English believed in NOBLE birthrights and a genetically elite class -- our founding fathers presumed that, despite outward differences, we are all equally HUMAN.

Now some of the founding fathers believed that this due to God whereas others saw this as extensions of nature -- either way it did't matter. The consequence is the same. The Constitution governs us one-and-all the same, because no "class" is genetically superior or inferior to another and thus deserving of more or less "rights".

Come again?
I applaud your brevity (something that my postings sometimes lack) but I don't understand your point. Was that "I'm right and you're wrong, so nanny-nanny-boo-boo!" or was that a serious counter-argument?

Yes, a natural right is something that was not given by men, and cannot be taken away by men. That does not mean that it cannot be violated by men. My right to life does not mean that I cannot be murdered, or that I am immortal. It simply means that it is not "Right" to murder me.

The question is "Why is it not right to murder?" Is it because of the inherent value of a human life, or simply because of the social agreements of the society in which that life resides? If you are going to take the authors side, then I would ask you the same question I asked him: Did the social contract of Nazi Germany invalidate the Jews right to life?

I think you tried to bring up capital punishment as a counter-argument. No, the right to life does not invalidate capital punishment, and I would gladly explain why, if you are seriously interested in a civilized discussion. (In a nutshell, because capital punishment is not murder, and my right to life is really nothing more than your obligation not to murder via "Thou shalt not murder.")

But if we can't even agree that innocent people have a basic right to life, there is little point in discussing the limits of that right.

So, back to you. Did the Nazi Germany social contract actually destroy the Jews right to life, or did it simply violate it? Hopefully you can do better than "I'm right, and you're wrong, so there!"

Unpleasant Reality
However unpleasant it may be and as opposed to the viewpoint inculcated in most people the author’s point rings true.

As I read the arguments against his point those very arguments only support the author’s contention

Did the Nazi’s destroy the “Right to Life” of the Jewish people during WW II in that area of the world? No. That community in that part of the world at that time did not accord that particular right to them. That particular community’s choice to not accord any right to life or liberty to those who opposed their beliefs (by making war and incarcerating or killing any who opposed their goals) is a perfect reflection of the author’s point. That community chose a particular set of “rights” and went about enforcing them. WITHIN that community those rights (and the laws that supported them) were what defined proper and improper.

The greater society outside of that minority community took exception when that minority community attempted to force those “rights” on the surrounding communities. (Note that the Holocaust was not the primary motivating force behind the Allies’ actions in prosecuting the war against Germany – self interest and the desire to maintain their own set of rights/laws was. Certainly the discovery of the horrors committed added to the motivation in the latter part of the war and the events that followed.)

Sometimes agreement is something developed by folks sitting around a table and working out a solution … sometimes agreement is something developed after a much more active struggle. Either way any “rights” that are held by a person only exist only in as much as the society they are within holds them to be true.

Which brings this long winded post to my last two (for now) points:
1. That inculcation of the belief in “inalienable rights” I mentioned earlier is generally a good thing. It helps stabilize society. It is harmful, however, when it stands in the way of an objective rational discussion.
2. The Constitution was created by the Founders in the manner it was to insulate us against the reality that rights exist only through agreement. The very purpose of a written constitution is to prevent our laws – and therefore our rights – from being subject to impulsive changes. It is the bedrock that prevents the development of something like the Third Reich’s values/laws/rights in the US.

agreed

Joesph
You are exactly right. I could not have said it better myself.

Fortunately, reality is not so unfortunate.
I respect your intellectual honesty. If rights were nothing more that social contracts that would indeed be an unfortunate reality.

You argue that the Nazi's did not destroy the Jews' right to life, because those Jews never had a right to life, because that community "did not accord that right to them". This is, of course, a circular argument. It presupposes that rights do not exist unless we create them. You cannot support a position by simply presupposing it to be true.

Notice that your very definition of a "right" makes the same presupposition. Your definition reduces a right to nothing more than a legal protection or a social convention. Admittedly, this is a fairly common usage of the word today (our Bill of Rights is an example). But the traditional meaning goes way beyond simply that which is "allowed". It goes beyond what IS, to what OUGHT to be. When I say the ***** had no "right" to murder, I do not mean that they were not allowed to do it. I simply mean that it was not "right" for them to do so. It was wrong. If I accept your definition, then whatever social contract the ***** agreed on was, by definition, "right", and we have no grounds on which to condemn them (or any other murderers, theives, etc.).

If that were true, it would indeed be, as you suggested, an unfortunate reality. Because good and evil would be subjective terms. And, frankly, subjective morality is pretty pointless. How many people would I need in my social contract in order for me to redefine right and wrong? If I got together with 1000 like-minded individuals and redefined murder in such a manner that killing you was no longer murder, would that be enough? What about 50? 20? 10? Can one have a social contract of two? Or can I just redefine right and wrong to fit my instantaneous desires?

The Book of Judges, after describing the immorality, gang rape, murder, etc. that were common at that time, ends with this verse: "In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25) To the fool, this may sound like utopia. Freedom! No consraints! No taboos! Free Love, etc. But the wise man sees it for what it is. Anarchy. Moral relativism. Immorality. Murder. Death and destruction.

If you are right, then our entire lives, including this whole discussion, are pointless. We may each think we are right, and the other wrong, but since right and wrong are really floating concepts, and each of us is free to define "right" according to our own conscience, neither of us is actually more right than the other. In fact, if I really want to be right, I should not be arguing with you at all. I should surround myself with like minded people, willing to define right and wrong in my terms, then I will always be right! (Hey, it worked for the *****!)

Once upon a time, I saw things your way. Life was indeed an "unfortunate reality". Part of me was jealous of those people who had a purpose, a reason for living (other than maximizing their happiness). But I knew they were wrong, and I could not trade truth for happiness. I would not join the "happily deluded", those who had abandoned truth and reason in exchange for hopes and dreams (eternal life, etc.) Imagine my joy when I found out that truth was not depressing meaninglessness, but that those believers actually had logical, well fouded reasons for hope, based in fact and logic, not fantasy and self-deception!

Fortunately, I've come to see that there is much more to it than that. Music is more than "just a series of sounds". Thought is more than "just a series of electrical impulses". And right and wrong are more than "just the local rules of my social circle."

Fortunately "unfortunate"
My, isn't it fun to play with words! :)

I had intended the use of the word as a mildly humorous sarcasm but it instead may have confused my point. For the record I hold that the right/proper/good manner to erect personal "rights" is to do so under law. Any other "right" holds no more effect than personal desire - for that is what it is.

My belief that rights are artifacts of law also involve no presupposition. It is empirical. I observe that where rights have been created under law those rights are supported and enforced within the society that created that law. I also observe that persons living in places that do not have particular rights erected under law do not enjoy those rights. Life liberty and the ownership of property (or "happiness" if we want to look at the US Constitution) are some of the principal "rights" but, empirically, we can observe that these "rights" exist and may be exercised only in as much as they are enshrined in law - and that where they do not exist under law (or are actively prohibited under law) those who attempt to exercise such "rights" are barred from doing so at best - killed for attempting to do so at the most extreme.

It is not presupposition, nor is it circular, to offer that "... the Nazi's did not destroy the Jews' right to life, because those Jews never had a right to life, because that community "did not accord that right to them"." It IS presupposition to argue that the right existed absent any law or observable proof of such a right.

Presupposition comes in, in truth, when arguments are made that "rights" exist outside the law. It is a nice position to take but what OUGHT to be often isn't what is - and even when it is it is entirely subjective. Entirely. Many people may agree with something I think ought to be or something you think ought to be. I probably agree with the vast majority of what you think ought to be - but until we all get together and have our society enact that desire into law it holds no force. You or I can stand and shout "No! You should have done THIS!" and it amounts to nothing more than (or less than) an expression of opinion.

Again your own words point this out.

"... [I]mmorality, gang rape, murder, etc. that were common at that time, ends with this verse: "In those days, there was no king in Israel..."

Absent law and a structure to enforce that law "... everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Without the legal structure there was "Anarchy. Moral relativism. Immorality. Murder. Death and destruction."

Again I apologize for an attempt at humor that obviously fell somewhat flat. It is right, proper, good and even fortunate that we have rights and that they exist as artifacts under law - especially those that exist under the US Constitution. It is that law that protects us from political whim, individual desires and the tyranny of the rich and/or powerful over those less wealthy/strong. It is the law and the weight of that written word that has moved many of those "rights" that the philosophers of old spoke of philosophically into real and enforceable "rights". Those philosophers did have a huge impact and hold much of the credit for the fact that those rights do now, in fact, exist - since it is their words and thoughts passed down through the years that contributed to the development of our belief that those rights OUGHT to exist. Those beliefs - by the great majority of our society - lead to the creation of the laws that made those rights the philosophers spoke of reality.

Those laws speak to the growth of humanity as individuals and the growth of our societies and that is a GOOD thing. Those great minds who had those great thoughts, those minds who worked to craft the structures to support those great thoughts and those societies who stood up and said "Yes, we will make it so!" deserve the credit for what they have accomplished (so far) and what they suffered through to bring us here.

And those are the reasons I am happy that rights are artifacts of the law - created by people who held to high ideals and worked to bring as much of the ideal as possible into reality. People without delusions.

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