Saturday, December 13, 2008

On The Concept And Nature Of Rights - Part Two

We have established an axiom - Rights are Inherent to Sentient Beings - and we have established a corollary to that axiom - if rights are inherent to sentient beings then rights must be naturally occuring and must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being. We have also established the reverse of that corollary - if it is not naturally occuring and/or cannot exist in the presence of any one sentient being, it cannot be a right. Through this process we have eliminated a whole host of things people often claim as rights and have narrowed down the possibilities of what might actually be a right. Now we will see if we can find a more definite answer to what is a right.
If we examine what we have already established we will see that there are three required components of a right.
1. A right must be naturally occurring.
2. A right must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being.
3. A right must not interfere with a right of another sentient being.
The first two are explicitly stated in the corollary while the third is implied both through the corollary and through the basic definitions of "rights" and "inherent". A right is what is naturally owed due to the meeting of certain conditions. The rights we are discussing are naturally owed - or inherent - due to the condition of being a living, thinking being. If a right is naturally owed then it cannot be taken away except through violation. Because a right must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being, there cannot be a right to violate another right. That would require the presence and/or participation of another sentient being, which violates the corollary.
We could stop right there if we wanted to. You have the right to do anything you choose that can be done naturally, can be done alone, and does not interfere with the rights of another. If an action meets those three requirements then there would be no reason for anyone else to intervene because the action would have nothing to do with anyone else. It would only be the human tendency to want to control the actions of others that would cause interferance, but controling the actions of another is certainly not a right. It does not even come close to satisfying the requirements. Right trumps non-right.
I said we could stop there but we will not because we can take it one step further. Why are rights inherent? Why is anything inherent? If we look at what is inherent in any living thing, we find that these inherent attributes serve the twin purposes of survival and prosperity. Whether it be legs for mobility, claws for hunting and defense, or the ability to reason between a good choice and a bad one, all of these things serve to not only keep a thing alive but also to help improve its life. It seems evident, then, that this is the reason for inherent attributes.
That being the case, rights - being inherent - would serve the same twin purposes: survival and prosperity, staying alive and improving life.
The defining difference between a sentient being and all other living things is the self-aware thought process. Because we are sentient, and because all sentient beings that we currently know about lack such things as claws and fangs, our ability to think and act upon our thoughts is our most critical tool for both survival and prosperity. Even our idea of rights (and of right and wrong in general) stems from this one point. Thus a right, to be properly inherent, would serve the purpose of staying alive and/or improving life.
Your right to hold your own belief improves your life because there is no faster way to misery than to oppose your own will. Your right to defend yourself obviously helps you stay alive. Your right to speak your mind might convince others to believe as you do, thus gaining you friends (we are social creatures) and improving your social interactions. Your right to walk away from someone who is speaking his mind can definitely improve your own peace of mind.
All of these rights, of course, stop at the point of requiring participation from another person. Your right to hold your own belief is not a right to compel another to follow your belief. Your right to defend yourself does not compel someone else to provide you with a weapon. Your right to speak your mind does not require someone else to listen or even to provide you with a location from which to speak.
So we have added a fourth requirement and defined a definite positive for human rights. If it occurs naturally among sentient beings, can exist in the presence of any one sentient being, does not interfere with the rights of another sentient being, and serves the purposes of survival and prosperity then it is a right. Put simply, if it could help you stay alive or improve your life while you were naked and alone in an empty universe then it is your inherent right and any attempt to remove it from you would be a violation of that right. If it doesn't meet that definition then it is not a right. That isn't to say that it isn't a good thing, just that it isn't an automatic.
We have now defined what a right is not and we have defined what a right is. If anyone is still following along, tomorrow we might go into practical application. I'm not promising that Part Three though. It isn't as required as Part Two was and something else may come up that needs to be addressed. Besides, Part Two was difficult to write. Attempting to break down what seems obvious to me is never easy. I'm always afraid that I will forget to say something that needed to be said just because it is so obvious to me that I don't think about it. Try thinking about every biological step involved in breathing sometime and see if you don't have to start over once or twice because you forgot something.
At any rate, come back tomorrow and we will see what we see.

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