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Post 60

Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 6:07pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, I detect a significant difference in tone between your posts and those of Merlin and Bill. They seem to be trying seriously to make a series of very subtle distinctions about the issue and what I'm saying, within the full context of Rand's writings on the relevant topics. By contrast, you seem to be completely ignoring not just what I'm saying, but also all the relevant things that Rand said directly bearing on this subject. In fact, you haven't directly addressed any of the specific points I raised. You are coming across more and more as a guy who is just trying to score debating points and win an argument, as if this is some competition -- and not as someone who is really trying seriously to grasp and resolve our understanding of an important issue.

For example, in totally dismissing Rand's very careful, definitive written statements about rights, in post #21 you cite instead Rand's brief, off-the-cuff 1972 reply to a question during a public Q&A session, in which she said:
There is, however, one minor fault [with the Founders view of individual rights] on the level of fundamentals: the idea that men are endowed with rights by their Creator rather than by Nature.

Somehow, that single reference to "endowed...by Nature" -- issued during a spontaneous, off-the-cuff conversation, and for obvious rhetorical effect as a parallel to "endowed by their Creator" -- is supposed to negate and supercede her definitive, written essay on the subject, "Man's Rights" -- and also the full context of her presentations, in which she repeatedly defined rights both as "a moral concept" and as a moral principle!

Ed, that's completely absurd on its face. To accept your intrinsicist interpretation of that one line in a conversation as correct, we would have to negate everything else to the contrary that Rand wrote on the topic: not only her seminal essay "Man's Rights," but also Chapter 5 of ITOE, as I pointed out.

But that is exactly what you would have us do. In post #56, you make much of the fact that this public lecture remark and another (see below) came a decade after her essay "Man's Rights." This, you argue, means that these two single-line quotations from the 1970s must represent Rand's "mature" view, and that they supercede her seminal essay!

In "Man's Rights," Rand first says: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." But after providing this definition, Rand also wrote, in italics: "Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law." Following your interpretive logic, are we to believe that this statement, coming a few pages after the first one, represents a NEW "definition" that negates and supercedes the earlier one she supplied in the same essay?

The second thin reed of evidence you offer in post #21 on behalf of your intrinsicist interpretation is this Rand quotation from "The Metaphysical Vs. the Man-made":
Observe that the philosophical system based on the axiom of the primacy of existence (i.e., on recognizing the absolutism of reality) led to the recognition of man's ... rights.

But this Rand quotation cannot be tortured to say what you want it to. You think Rand means that once men accepted the primacy of existence premise, they somehow recognized the independent "existence" of something called "rights," floating around out there in reality somewhere.

But as Joe and I have laboriously emphasized, we do NOT deny that the SOURCE of rights lies in existence -- in facts of reality; we argue only that the concept of rights is a product of human thinking about those facts, as all concepts are. Rand's words are perfectly compatible with our interpretation: that human development of an objective philosophical system would lead men to understand the social necessity to formulate and uphold the moral concept of individual rights. Nothing in her words contradicts that interpretation. However, many passages in Rand contradict your interpretation.

If two sentences, or sentence fragments -- torn out of the full context of Rand's definitive statements -- are the best you can do, Ed, I think we've reached an end to our portion of this discussion. I'd prefer to continue this with Merlin and Bill, who are at least trying to grapple seriously with that full context rather than simply ignoring it.


(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 11/04, 6:10pm)




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Post 61

Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 7:21pmSanction this postReply
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Bill writes (post 55):
...every right is a survival requirement, whose existence does not depend on human identification. I can see now that I wasn't clear about this -- that I didn't distinguish adequately between a right as a requirement of human survival which we are morally obligated to respect, and a right as a moral principle which defines and sanctions that survival requirement.

I completely agree with this.
The only point I was making is that that moral principle refers to a moral obligation which exists independently of our recognition of it,...

I find it problematic to speak in terms of "a moral obligation which exists independently of our recognition of it." Morality without consciousness makes no sense to me; neither do moral obligations of which one is unaware. For example, if some primitive savage with no conception of civilized morality, let alone "rights," physically attacks me due to some mystical belief, I would regard him as pre-moral, not necessarily immoral -- i.e., operating at an animal level. (I'd try to kill him first, in any case.)
The fact that Newton's First Law of Motion is a principle of physical behavior does not mean that it has no existential referent independent of human identification. Similarly, the fact that Rand's concept of a 'right" is a principle of moral conduct does not mean that it has no existential referent independent of human identification.

THAT is a different issue -- and I agree with you. However, having an "existential referent independent of human identification" does not mean that a "moral obligation" arises "independent of human identification." You cannot be obligated or judged morally for something about which you are unaware.
...a right is an existent. Of course, "a right" (in quotes) is a concept, just as "existent" is a concept, but an existent (without quotes) is a concrete. Is a right (without quotes) a concrete if it refers to a particular right, like the right to the pursuit of happiness? Well, if a right is an existent and an existent is a concrete, then a right is a concrete; it is one of the units subsumed under the concept of "a right." "Concrete" in this context simply means particular (instead of general).

If I understand this, I agree with you. "Concrete," as you are using it here, "simply means particular (instead of general)" -- and in that sense, a specific right is a "concrete" and and "existent." Concepts are "existents" as epistemological formulations; they are definitely something as opposed to nothing. That still does not establish them as some sort of metaphysical quality, essence, or substance -- which is the traditional, intrinsicist notion of rights that I believe both of us reject.

We appear only to disagree here on the "moral obligation independent of consciousness" issue, Bill. I don't think we're that far apart.



Post 62

Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 7:29pmSanction this postReply
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sorry, errounous posting. 

 

K

(Edited by Karyn Daniels on 11/04, 7:38pm)




Post 63

Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 8:54pmSanction this postReply
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Bob, you wrote,
I find it problematic to speak in terms of "a moral obligation which exists independently of our recognition of it." Morality without consciousness makes no sense to me; neither do moral obligations of which one is unaware. For example, if some primitive savage with no conception of civilized morality, let alone "rights," physically attacks me due to some mystical belief, I would regard him as pre-moral, not necessarily immoral -- i.e., operating at an animal level. (I'd try to kill him first, in any case.)...having an "existential referent independent of human identification" does not mean that a "moral obligation" arises "independent of human identification." You cannot be obligated or judged morally for something about which you are unaware.
See my reply to Joe (Post #59), in which I explain in more detail what I mean by "moral requirement" or "moral obligation." As you will see, I'm simply referring to the fact that if one's end is a happy life, then in order to achieve it, one ought to follow a certain course of action, including a respect for the freedom of others. This relationship between means and ends that characterizes a consequentialist view of morality exists even if one is not aware of it.

- Bill



Post 64

Sunday, November 4, 2007 - 9:20pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

I'd like to reply to your post(s), but the issues are complex, and I've run out of weekend. I'll try to get back to this in coming days. Thanks for your comments.

--Robert



Post 65

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 2:23amSanction this postReply
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Robert said:  
Rights are concepts. Concepts are abstractions. Abstractions are not metaphysical existents.

Exactly! End of discussion.




Post 66

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 5:42amSanction this postReply
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Robert,

I could have been more clear than I have (as Merlin suggests). Even still, you've answered me indirectly (i.e., you don't agree with Rand's 1970s statements about rights).

Thank you for taking the time and energy to speak your mind with only a minimal amount of defensive posturing and semantics. I appreciate it when folks do that in discussions. 

Ed




Post 67

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 8:16amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

"There is a requirement to act on it, even if you don't recognize it, but the requirement is conditional: If you want to achieve a certain end, e.g., freedom of action in a social context, then you "must" respect the freedom of others."

But, you don't need to act to "..respect the freedom of others." Refraining from some actions is enough to respect the freedom of others. To get others to respect your rights you need do violence to others who would violate your rights.

Recap: You respect the rights of others by refraining from violating their rights. You get others to respect your rights by being willing to act to do violence on them if they violate your rights. No willingness to act, no rights. Rights exist because of the violence done on the small percentage of people who would be predators of their fellow humans. Not because the majority of non-predators "respect" others rights.

My $.02.

Mike Erickson
(action oriented)



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Post 68

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 9:30amSanction this postReply
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Ronald quoted Robert: "Rights are concepts. Concepts are abstractions. Abstractions are not metaphysical existents." And added, "Exactly! End of discussion." By "metaphysical existent," I take it that you mean what Robert meant, namely, some sort of metaphysical quality, essence, or substance -- which is the traditional, intrinsicist notion of rights. I don't think anyone here has been advocating that, contrary to what several of the posters have implied.

But I want to address something you said in Post #40. There, you wrote, "Rights are conceptual, learned or epistemological in nature, because if men did not mentally recognize them, unlike a lake or a tree, they would not exist."

Before anything can be recognized, it must first exist; otherwise there would be nothing to recognize. You evidently meant to say that before the principle of rights was formulated, the principle did not exist, which is true. But the principle simply identifies the fact that if one wants a free and prosperous society, then one ought to respect the freedom of others. That fact exists even if no one recognizes it -- which is the point that we, on the other side of the aisle, have been making lo these many posts.

The term "right" can be used, as Rand does, to refer to the principle which identifies that fact, or it can be used to identify the fact itself, which, is how I (and others) have been using it.

Question: When people eventually did recognize rights, what is it that they were recognizing? It couldn't have been a "moral principle defining and sanction man's freedom of action in a social context" (Rand's definition), because the principle wasn't formulated until after the recognition. It had to be that to which the principle was referring, namely, the fact that one ought to respect the freedom of others. It is that which properly defines "a right," because rights exist independently of our recognition of them. They have to; otherwise, they would never have been recognized in the first place.

- Bill



Post 69

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 9:58amSanction this postReply
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Exactly : )



Post 70

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 12:53pmSanction this postReply
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Bill said:

... some sort of metaphysical quality, essence, or substance -- which is the traditional, intrinsicist notion of rights. I don't think anyone here has been advocating that ...
And, to be crystal clear and as plain as day I say -- I am NOT advocating this kind of a thing (when I say "rights just are").

Ed




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Post 71

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 1:52pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

It is that which properly defines "a right," because rights exist independently of our recognition of them.
This is so true and important. Rights are metaphysical things. And, being metaphysical, they allow us to judge governing bodies (as to whether and how much they respect rights). This is the main difference point between Bidinotto's and Rowlands' view -- from yours and mine. Recognizing that rights exist independently of our thought about them -- is what it is that justifies our current actions in the Middle East, for example.

If the view forwarded by Bidinotto and Rowlands was accurate and sufficient -- then there would be no moral reason for us to even be militarily present in the Middle East -- because rights of Middle Easterners would be things only existing after proper thoughts -- and proper thoughts are something deficient among Middle Eastern politics and leadership (i.e., we wouldn't have "the right" to intrude on primative societies -- as we now do).

Ed




Post 72

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 11:18pmSanction this postReply
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I wrote, "There is a requirement to act on it, even if you don't recognize it, but the requirement is conditional: If you want to achieve a certain end, e.g., freedom of action in a social context, then you "must" respect the freedom of others." Mike replied,
But, you don't need to act to "..respect the freedom of others." Refraining from some actions is enough to respect the freedom of others.
By "act on it," I simply meant to choose one's actions in accordance with the principle. If one has a choice to steal the money or not to steal it, and one chooses (in accordance with the principle of rights) not to steal it, then one is "acting on the principle." That's the sense in which I meant it.
To get others to respect your rights you need do violence to others who would violate your rights.
Not necessarily. You could get others to respect your rights by convincing them that it's the right thing to do. In fact, as Rand points out, the police would be powerless to offer adequate protection against criminals if there wasn't already widespread agreement on the value of respecting other people's rights -- if, in other words, people hadn't already adopted a certain view of morality. And what is to stop the police from violating your rights, if they aren't morally opposed to it? Ultimately, it is the right philosophy and the right morality that is most instrumental in getting people to respect your rights. The willingness to defend your rights is important, but it pales in comparison to the influence of the right ideas.
Recap: You respect the rights of others by refraining from violating their rights. You get others to respect your rights by being willing to act to do violence on them if they violate your rights. No willingness to act, no rights.
You mean that if someone is unwilling to defend their rights, they don't have them? I don't think that follows. In fact, before you can defend your rights, they must first exist; otherwise, there is nothing to defend. The only way that a person can forfeit his rights is by violating the rights of others.
Rights exist because of the violence done on the small percentage of people who would be predators of their fellow humans. Not because the majority of non-predators "respect" others rights.
Neither is true. The existence of rights does not depend on their being defended, nor on their being respected. It depends on the fact that freedom of action is a precondition for the achievement of one's values. That freedom can be enhanced by the willingness of people to respect and defend it, but neither of these actions is required for the right to freedom. On the contrary, the right to freedom is required for the willingness to respect and defend it.

- Bill



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Post 73

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 11:38pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,  you said:

If, as Rand stated in 1972, men are endowed with rights by Nature (i.e., if men are metaphysically endowed with rights); and if, as Rand stated in 1973, rights are independent existents to be "recognized" (or -- in some cases -- not sufficiently recognized) -- then we can morally judge any society (based on whether it respects these "really-existing" rights of humans).

However, if rights are only "products" of a very specific and refined line of thinking (i.e., if they're epistemologically "born"), then we can't judge societies thusly -- because we can't be sure that these countries' leaders are mentally following along with the correct thinking that leads one to the correct conceptual adoption and integration of Individual Rights.

Have I just made this difference in real-world outcomes clear to you?

I think this is a non-sequitor.  You're stating you don't care whether a person recognizes rights or not, that you think it is morally proper to use violence against them.  And then you state, without cause, that if rights are moral principles, then we can't respond with violence unless they accept these principles.  Why is that?  You seem to be treating the moral view of rights as if it were simply convention.  But if, as Robert and I have stated repeatedly, they are grounded in facts of reality, then those facts are still there.

Let me turn it around on you again.  If you view rights as metaphysical, as you keep saying you do, then they just exist, for everyone, including the dictator.  How can you use violence against him, by your theory?  At some point, you have to say that while he may have these intrinsic rights, it's morallly acceptable to ignore them and use violence against him anyway.  In other words, you think it's acceptable to violate his rights in those cases.  But why do you get to?  Isn't a theory that tells you when its okay to violate his rights be "a very specific and refined line of thinking", as you said?  If he doesn't agree, wouldn't you have to let him be?

The difference between the your intrinsicist view of rights and our objective view of rights is that you consider the murderer still has rights, whereas I don't.  You think they just exist.  They're just "out there".  I think rights are a moral sanction.  I don't say that the murder has the right to live his life free of coercion from others, and we violate those rights as a necessary evil.  I say that when he initiates force against others, he no longer has a right to be free of coercion.

Robert has already pointed out why he doesn't find any value in debating you.  Let me add my own version.  We've established over and over that rights are not some kind of metaphysical existent, that you can point to, carry, or whatever.  And while claiming some of the time that you don't think that's true, you continue to use the terminology.  While we have gone to great lengths to discuss the idea behind the concept, and why there is confusion on its use, you simply throw the word "rights" around as if nobody has spoken a word.  What are these magical things called rights that exist out there?  The requirements for living?  Moral sanctions?  Your last post says:
Recognizing that rights exist independently of our thought about them -- is what it is that justifies our current actions in the Middle East, for example.
But you don't even both stopping to ask how we would justify it.  It doesn't take that much.  We aren't idiots who think rights are some subjective whim.  We have repeatedly said that we recognize that rights are grounded the in the requirements of men to live free, so they can live by their minds.  Absolutely we are able to justify going and stopping a murderer or a dictator.  We recognize that it is within our interests to stop those people who prevent men from living free, and to help those people willing to live harmoniously with us.  I've said it repeatedly in this thread.  The facts are there, and our position is not ignorant of them.

So I get the impression that you have no idea what you're arguing for or against here.  When we look for clarification, you're unable to provide it for your own position, and you certainly can't even come close to describing our position.  And you don't seem the slightest bit concerned.

So again, let me point out the problem of your "rights just exist" theory.  By that theory, the dictator has the right to be free, so your theory of rights should say that we can't attack him.  But you conveniently ignore your own theory of rights and claim you have to do what you have to do.  So then, violation of rights does not mean anything.  It's not a good thing.  It's not a bad thing.  Your "rights" are by themselves morally content-free.  You say
And, being metaphysical, they allow us to judge governing bodies (as to whether and how much they respect rights).
Since you think dictators and murderers have rights, it would appear that a government that violated the rights of them would be judged negatively.  And if you tried protecting yourself, at the cost of killing innocent civilians (collateral damage), you would be a rights violator.

And in fact, we have here an admission of Robert's original criticism.  That this is what the intrinsic view of rights leads to.  You can't oppose dictators, because you would be violating their rights, and the rights of any bystander that got hurt.  It does directly lead to pacficism.

So far, the big difference between your view and our view of rights is that your view of rights is useless as a moral guide at best, and at worst a call for sacrifice of your life to this metaphsyical, intrinsic value.




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Post 74

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 12:37amSanction this postReply
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Bill, I still think you and I have many disagreements on this topic, although I have a hard time accepting that you and Ed are anywhere near on the same page.  But many of the things you say make me question that assumption.

First, I was wondering what you thought about technology.  Take for instance the internal combustion engine.  Would you say that before it was invented, it just "existed" out there.  That the technology "just was", and the inventor just recognized this already existing fact?  Certainly it's easy to show that the technology is based on certain facts of reality.  I'm curious whether you'd treat this the same way you seem to be treating moral principles. 

Second, you pull an Ed when you say:
By "requirement" in this context, I simply meant moral necessity or moral obligation. In other words, if rights don't exist, then there is no moral obligation to respect them.
Is it possible to even discuss what you mean without using the term rights?  If you're simply discussing the fact that people need freedom to live their lives effectively, then sure, if that's not true, there would be no "moral obligation".  But if rights are moral principles instead of things that "just are", there would still be a "moral obligation".  The difference is that you want to use the term "rights" to refer to these general requirements for living, which corners you into the position of saying murderers still have these rights.  Whereas we can simply say these "moral obligations" (the scare quotes is because I don't like the terminology...later) are what rights are.  And since we don't have these moral obligations when someone is a murderer, then we don't need to say that the murderer has rights.  We can use the term as a moral tool, and judge people by whether they respect these rights, or they violate them.  But only because for us, the word rights actually is a moral concept, and so is the product of a moral evaluation.

There's another way to approach this, which I also disagree with.  This other method points to these requirements for living, makes a generalization that it's appropriate to always respect the freedom of others, and sets up a moral rule.  In this approach, it is argued that you are required or obligated to act that way.  Of course, the rule is justified by pointing to the obvious benefits of respecting the freedom of those living harmoniously with you.  But from there, a simple rule is created.  It becomes a context-free rule that you follow.  When reasons come up that point to problems, the rule is discarded as inappropriate in that context.

Now I'm not saying you're taking this approach, but your use of terminology and the way you phrase things fits perfectly with this approach.  Take this statement:
If you want to achieve a certain end, e.g., freedom of action in a social context, then you "must" respect the freedom of others.
The most obvious problem with it is that you don't have to respect the freedom of those people who aren't respecting yours.  A second counter-example would be the human shield who a murderer is using to defend against you.  But the "moral principle", if you will, is simply a rule with a justification.  The only context it allows is the "if you want to achieve a certain end", allowing for actions if you don't want that end.

And of course, you keep talking about "moral requirements" or "moral obligations".  Yo also said earlier in post 48:
The grasp of a moral principle is the recognition of a causal connection; the moral principle itself -- that you ought to behave in a certain way -- is not.
The moral principle, according to this, is that you should behave in a particular way.

I highlighted my own view of moral principles earlier.  And the fact that they aren't simply demands to act in a particular way.  They're recognitions of causal connections, and how certain means leads to certain ends.  But you always have to apply this understanding to specific contexts.  You don't get to just remember to behave a certain way.  The moral principles give you an understanding of what your actions will lead to, or what actions are required to get to a result.  But you still have to pick the values, apply this principle to whatever context comes up, and decide on an informed course of action.

Since you didn't comment, I don't know whether you disagreed with this view that moral principles really are principles (a general law or truth), and you still need to imply the generalized knowledge to your own unique circumstances, context, and values.  But the way you keep phrasing things implies a sharp disagreement.

Why does it matter?  Partly because I think it's bad epistemology.  The rule approach may start off with a recognition of a general principle.  But then it over-generalizes in order to come up with a "moral requirement" that you can act upon unthinkingly.  And when problems pop up, the over-generalized rule is discarded a little at a time until it is a rule with many caveats.  Whereas if the original causal relationship behind the principle was maintained in the first place, it doesn't have exceptions.  The context is clear, and it just needs to be applied.

So the choice is simple.  A rule based on an over-generalization with many caveats and areas where it needs to be discarded, versus a principle that retains the original causal relationship.

In the case of rights, we can hold the intrinsic view of rights that says we must never violate the freedom of other people, ever.  Except murderers.  And except dictators.  And except when there are human shields.  And except when your in a lifeboat scenario.  And except when the world is coming to an end and you need to steal someone's death ray to stop the asteroid from colliding.  Or whatever.

Or you can understand why we should respect the freedom of others and apply that knowledge.  So it's a simple application that tells us we shouldn't respect the freedom of murderers or dictators.  And it's a straightforward application to recognize that if a bystander died in an act of self-defense, that the person who pulled the trigger is not some rights-violator that needs to be locked up, but that it was the one who initiated force that created the situation and should be blamed.  And so on.  Simple applications.  When there is confusion, we don't need a list of exceptions to remember.  We just solidify our understanding of the underlying principle.




Post 75

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 7:07amSanction this postReply
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Bill Dwyer wrote:

When people eventually did recognize rights, what is it that they were recognizing? It couldn't have been a "moral principle defining and sanction man's freedom of action in a social context" (Rand's definition), because the principle wasn't formulated until after the recognition. It had to be that to which the principle was referring, namely, the fact that one ought to respect the freedom of others. It is that which properly defines "a right," because rights exist independently of our recognition of them. They have to; otherwise, they would never have been recognized in the first place.
 Ed T. quoted the sentence in bold and replied:

This is so true and important. Rights are metaphysical things. And, being metaphysical, they allow us to judge governing bodies (as to whether and how much they respect rights). This is the main difference point between Bidinotto's and Rowlands' view -- from yours and mine. Recognizing that rights exist independently of our thought about them -- is what it is that justifies our current actions in the Middle East, for example.
Ed T.,

I think you are making a straw man of Bidinotto's and Rowlands' view. And what does "rights are metaphysical things" mean? "Thing" usually means entity, but it might mean attribute or process. In what sense is a right a "thing"?

How does "one ought to respect the freedom of others" differ so much from "moral principle defining and sanction man's freedom of action in a social context"? Bill even refers to the former as a "principle" in the preceding sentence. Doesn't "one ought to" introduce a moral principle? How can one "respect the freedom of others" if not in a social context?

I think "the fact" that Bill italicized adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence. That some people don't respect the freedom of others is a fact, too.




Post 76

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 7:57amSanction this postReply
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Unfortunately my computer is "caput" and I cannot adequately answer Bill, Joe, and Merlin here and now.

I'll say one thing however, I view rights as real relations. I don't view them as "entities" (my literary fumblings not withstanding). Everybody's got them because of being human. Not everyone can or even ought to exercise them. Criminals should have some of the free exercise of their rights taken away. Slave societies should be granted more free exercise of their rights. It's because they're human beings.

I'm sorry that this has to be so short and even semi-cryptic -- but the astute will see where it is that I'm coming from from a careful integration of what I've said in this thread. I wish I could be more careful and comprehensive in my responses (I realize that I've been too short and too brazen on this topic). I honestly and earnestly would like to thoroughly engage the subtleties brought up -- I just can't do that right now (or even soon).

Thank you all for the intellectual engagement.

Ed




Post 77

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 8:26amSanction this postReply
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Ed wrote,
First, I was wondering what you thought about technology. Take for instance the internal combustion engine. Would you say that before it was invented, it just "existed" out there. That the technology "just was", and the inventor just recognized this already existing fact? Certainly it's easy to show that the technology is based on certain facts of reality. I'm curious whether you'd treat this the same way you seem to be treating moral principles.
No, I would not treat this the same way. The technology was invented, not discovered as an already existing fact of reality. A better analogy would be this: Before it was discovered that vitamin C prevented scurvy, people didn't realize that they needed this vitamin. Was their need for the vitamin created by the discovery, or did it exist before the discovery? Obviously, it existed before the discovery. Similarly, man's need for freedom -- the right to act on his own judgment -- existed before it was recognized. For instance, slavery was wrong -- was anti-man and anti-life -- before it was recognized as such. Ditto for human sacrifice. These things didn't become wrong or immoral only after they were identified as such.

Then you say,
you want to use the term "rights" to refer to these general requirements for living, which corners you into the position of saying murderers still have these rights.
No, it doesn't! Granting rights to murderers is incompatible with the requirements for human survival.
There's another way to approach this, which I also disagree with. This other method points to these requirements for living, makes a generalization that it's appropriate to always respect the freedom of others, and sets up a moral rule. In this approach, it is argued that you are required or obligated to act that way. Of course, the rule is justified by pointing to the obvious benefits of respecting the freedom of those living harmoniously with you. But from there, a simple rule is created. It becomes a context-free rule that you follow.
I am not advocating a context-free rule. Where in the world did you get that idea?!
Now I'm not saying you're taking this approach, but your use of terminology and the way you phrase things fits perfectly with this approach. Take this statement: "If you want to achieve a certain end, e.g., freedom of action in a social context, then you "must" respect the freedom of others."
The most obvious problem with it is that you don't have to respect the freedom of those people who aren't respecting yours.
Joe, I meant respect the freedom of those who are not themselves violating freedom. Whom do you think you're talking to?
A second counter-example would be the human shield who a murderer is using to defend against you. But the "moral principle", if you will, is simply a rule with a justification. The only context it allows is the "if you want to achieve a certain end", allowing for actions if you don't want that end.
Obviously, I didn't fill in the entire context. I was referring to the general principle of means-ends justification. The ultimate end is, of course, your own life and happiness.
And of course, you keep talking about "moral requirements" or "moral obligations". Yo also said earlier in post 48: "The grasp of a moral principle is the recognition of a causal connection; the moral principle itself -- that you ought to behave in a certain way -- is not."The moral principle, according to this, is that you should behave in a particular way.

I highlighted my own view of moral principles earlier. And the fact that they aren't simply demands to act in a particular way. They're recognitions of causal connections, and how certain means leads to certain ends.
I agree. That's all I mean by moral obligation. When I say that you "ought" -- "are obligated" -- "are required" -- or "must" act in a certain way, I simply mean that acting that way is a means to your ends. I thought I made that clear in my previous posts. I am not advocating a categorical imperative here; I am not a Kantian, if that's what you're suggesting.
But you always have to apply this understanding to specific contexts. You don't get to just remember to behave a certain way. The moral principles give you an understanding of what your actions will lead to, or what actions are required to get to a result. But you still have to pick the values, apply this principle to whatever context comes up, and decide on an informed course of action.
I realize that. Why do you assume that I would disagree with you here? Joe, you're making all kinds of unwarranted assumptions and are being very unsympathetic to the context of my remarks.
The rule approach may start off with a recognition of a general principle. But then it over-generalizes in order to come up with a "moral requirement" that you can act upon unthinkingly.
Who said "unthinkingly"?? You are getting hung up on the term "moral requirement." "Moral requirement" simply refers to the fact that you are morally required to act a certain way under certain conditions -- that if you want a certain result, then you "must" act a certain way in order to get it. The "requirement" is causal; it refers to the causal connection between means and ends.
In the case of rights, we can hold the intrinsic view of rights that says we must never violate the freedom of other people, ever. Except murderers. And except dictators. And except when there are human shields. And except when your in a lifeboat scenario. And except when the world is coming to an end and you need to steal someone's death ray to stop the asteroid from colliding. Or whatever.
Now, I'm not clear on what your position is, Joe. What principles are YOU advocating. You say,
Or you can understand why we should respect the freedom of others and apply that knowledge.
What knowledge?
So it's a simple application that tells us we shouldn't respect the freedom of murderers or dictators. And it's a straightforward application to recognize that if a bystander died in an act of self-defense, that the person who pulled the trigger is not some rights-violator that needs to be locked up, but that it was the one who initiated force that created the situation and should be blamed. And so on. Simple applications.
"Simple applications" of what? What are your principles?
When there is confusion, we don't need a list of exceptions to remember. We just solidify our understanding of the underlying principle.
Which is what? Principles are guides to action. What are your guides to action? Do they not include a principle of rights that applies in some contexts and not in others?

- Bill



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Post 78

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 8:43amSanction this postReply
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Bill, "rights" do not exist in and of themselves; they are high-level conceptual abstractions (in the form of principles) that originate in men's minds. Men recognized "rights," when they established social orders (and defined socio-physical boundaries.) Without rights, there is only the law of jungle, only anarchy.

Just because men establish (or impose or define) "rights" to establish social order and reduce chaos hardly means that these rights are life-positive, or truly rational and moral. This is clearly evident when we examine Nazism, Communism, Islam, and other secular and ecclesiastical social orders.

"Rights" are man-made; they do not exist independently of of our recognition of them. What Rand did, based on her view of  metaphysical reality and man's nature as a rational animal, was to establish what the right rights for man qua man should be.




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Post 79

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 - 11:00amSanction this postReply
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Ed,
I'll say one thing however, I view rights as real relations. I don't view them as "entities" (my literary fumblings not withstanding). Everybody's got them because of being human. Not everyone can or even ought to exercise them. Criminals should have some of the free exercise of their rights taken away. Slave societies should be granted more free exercise of their rights. It's because they're human beings.
What is a "human being"? How did "human beings" get the attribute of having the "Rights" you speak of? Is having such "Rights" part of your definition of "human being"? You have been a Rationalist on this topic.

How about lets get back to debates like this: One proposes a context/situation. And then lets debate about what sort of action we should take in the situation. This "Rights" stuff is rationalistic garbage.



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