Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rights and moral objectivity

I think that one implication of rejecting moral objectivity is the conclusion that rights are given by societies, and are not inherent in people in virtue of being human. If someone has the right not to be enslaved, then that means that potential slaveholders have an objective obligation not to own them. 

12 comments:

Ilíon said...

Good. Now, apply this reasoning the (false) politics and policies you like. I'll even help you out --

You, being a good little "liberal", believe that people have a "right" to [xyz]. But, if that is the case, there are at least two things that shake out --
* someone's right to [xyz] is not a matter of where he lives, geographically or socially, but rather is inherent in his nature as a human being;
* if someone has a right to [xyz], then someone else has an obligation to supply it.

If you work through the logic, you are quickly going to come to a conclusion that you "liberals" reject, but which the leftists pulling your strings fully intend.

Steve Lovell said...

Hi ilion,

I doubt anyone is very concerned by the first corollary about rights not being geographically or socially relative. Or at least, I'm not concerned about that. But then I don't think we have nearly as many moral rights as some people seem to suppose. Legal rights are a different matter.

The second (alleged) corollary would probably be more of a concern. However, much rights talk is negatively couched. I have a right to life. That doesn't mean that some particular person has an obligation to sustain my being alive (does it?). It means that everyone has an obligation to NOT kill me. Perhaps you could give a concrete example to show us what you're concerned about.

Angra Mainyu said...

Hi Steve,

I agree that in a common sense of the words, "A has a right to X" means that some other people have a moral obligation not to forcibly prevent A from Xing/having X/whatever matches.
However, I don't think it means that everyone else has that obligation, but rather, who has the obligation varies with context, and it's often very difficult to determine - and sometimes, different people made a claim with the same words, but considering different groups as obligated, resulting in miscommunication.

For example, when the Universal Declaration on Human Rights contends that "Everyone has the right to life" (Article 3), that's a moral claim - not a legal one -, but it seems very probable that there is no claim that everyone has a moral obligation not to kill anyone - which would imply, for example, that soldiers in war always behave immorally if they kill their enemies.

Then again, perhaps that's not one moral claim but more than one, because perhaps different people who signed the Declaration were making claims about different people being obligated. It's hard to tell. In some cases, there just isn't enough info available to tell.

I think that that's one of the factors that contribute to make moral talk in terms of rights prone to miscommunication (the fact that there are a number of different senses of the word "right" and people talking to each other - in my experience - often don't realize they're using the word in different senses is another factor).

Personally, I prefer talk in terms of obligations, supererogation, etc., or talk in terms of moral wrongness/immorality, moral goodness, etc., depending on the case; I don't think talk in terms of rights is per se required or helpful. However, talk in terms of rights may be required to make one's point when talking to some people not used to talk in a different way, so I adapt if I think I have to; it's not "per se" required in the sense that I don't think there is anything that can be said in terms of rights that cannot be matched (or improved upon, by means of greater precision) by talk in terms of other moral terms.

Marianne Kearns said...

God blessa youse
- Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL
when they had morality and bawls

Marianne Kearns said...

God blessa youse
- Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL
when they had morality and bawls

Ilíon said...

Steve Lovell: "I doubt anyone is very concerned by the first corollary about rights not being geographically or socially relative. Or at least, I'm not concerned about that."

So, your right to life (which you assert possessing in the next paragraph) may be abridged or violated by a change in geography or a change in social class or status? And you're not too concerned by any reasoning that would seek to justify that?

"The second (alleged) corollary would probably be more of a concern."

This second "corollary", as you put it, is indeed alleged; in fact, it is false. However, it is one of the main premises the "liberals" use to enact the will of their leftist puppet-masters.

And, this second os of more concern -- more dangerous to one's actual liberty -- precisely because the first "corollary", as you put it, is foundational to any discission of really existing rights.

"However, much rights talk is negatively couched."

Indeed: (almost all) real rights are "negative" -- that I may enjoy my "right to life", all that I require of you, or of anyone else, is that you not falsely kill (that is, murder) me. That I may enjoy my "right to freedom of movement", all that I require of you, or of anyone else, is that you not falsely imprison me.

"That doesn't mean that some particular person has an obligation to sustain my being alive (does it?)."

Of course not, not if we're talking about a *real* right.

"It means that everyone has an obligation to NOT kill me."

Exactly. The "right to life" is a *real* right: thus, the only obligation that others have to you with respect to your exercise and enjoyment of that right is to simply to not seek to prevent you exercising and enjoying it.

Ilíon said...

"Perhaps you could give a concrete example to show us what you're concerned about."

If human persons have a "right to affordable health care" or a "right to affordable housing" or a "right to a 'livable' wage" or a "right to affordable and nutritious food" or any other of the currently fashionable leftist shibboleths, in the manner in which the leftists mean the assertions of rights, then the existence of those rights imposes an obligation upon someone else to act, rather than merely to refrain from acting.

"Liberals" like that logical implication; partly because it justifies the usurpation of others' freedom to their own benefit, and partly because they haven't thought through the logical implications of the first "corollary", as you put it.

Look -- if *you*, living here in America, have, say, a positive "right to affordable housing", then someone has a duty to supply you the means to enjoy that right. One way you may effect your exercise this alleged right is by banding together with like-minded persons and convincing your rulers (who, after all, by and large are the ones who told you you have that right in the first place) to confiscate wealth from other persons to give to you, such that you can now afford housing of the quality you consider fitting to your dignity.

That's simply the less immediately messy way to go about securing your alleged "right to affordable housing". Another method, slightly more messy (though, not yet as messay as everyone individually confiscating the housing they'd prefer), is to have those who would rule us decide, via their bureaucracy, who has "his fair share" of "affordable housing", and physically confiscating that which he "doesn't need". Thus, some people in Europe who thought they owned a second house are finding that they didn't own it after all, since the State doesn't have enough places to put all the "refugees" the rulers are importing.

But, get back to that first "corollary" -- if *you*, living here in America a positive "right to affordable housing", then so does the slum-dweller in Rio. Moreover, being an American, even bing a "poor" American', you already have "more that you need" as compared to most of the people in Brazil, whether or not they live in a Rio slum.

If *I* may be compelled to furnish you the means to enjoy your (alleged) "right to affordable housing", then *you* may be compelled to furnish the Rio slum-dweller the means to enjoy his (alleged) "right to affordable housing".

"Liberals" never think this through. But then, they never think most things past the point of getting what they want.

Steve Lovell said...

Ilion,

Glad to hear we agree about the second "corollary" ... that it's no such thing. Your illusrations are interesting, however. I don't think of any of them as moral rights, though I'd be prepared to argue for some of them as legal rights or that if they aren't currently legal rights (that will be culterally relative dependant on contingent legislative matters), that they (morally) should be. Such (legal) rights would impose duties on the state, not on individuals ... though individuals would be (legally) oligated to pay such taxes as are necessary to support such things.

I think there's been a misunderstanding about "the first corollary". You originally wrote:

"You, being a good little "liberal", believe that people have a "right" to [xyz]. But, if that is the case, there are at least two things that shake out --
* someone's right to [xyz] is not a matter of where he lives, geographically or socially, but rather is inherent in his nature as a human being;"

And I said that I'm happy to accept that consequence. You then pilloried me as follows:

"So, your right to life (which you assert possessing in the next paragraph) may be abridged or violated by a change in geography or a change in social class or status? And you're not too concerned by any reasoning that would seek to justify that?"

At least one of us has massively misunderstood the other, though it may be both of us! In short, I agree with you that if moral rights are real they are not "relative" to culture or geography. Depending on whether we think moral rights are always morally invoilable, they may be situationally relative (as Angra's comment illusrates).

By the way, I live in Suffolk, England. Over here both of our main political parties are further to the left than your "liberals"!

Where does this leave us?

Steve Lovell said...

Hello again Angra,

I agree. Rights talk is not normally very helpful. It's normally just means people are insisting on something and don't want to engage in any further discussion, because being in possession of such a right is thought to be morally decisive.

I like your nuanced approach to rights as situationally relative in their imposition of corresponding obligations (not that having them is situationally/culturally/geographically relative). I guess the point is that rights always provide strong moral reasons to do/not-do something but that they are not always morally decisive. Seems a sensible approach.

Ilíon said...

"By the way, I live in Suffolk, England. Over here both of our main political parties are further to the left than your "liberals"!"

And your "extreme right-wing" parties are leftists.

The reason I always use scare-quotes when referring to American "liberals" is because when the word is used correctly, I'm the liberal and they are not.

Ilíon said...

... when I was a little kid, before I understood that the Progressives had stolen the word "liberal" to rebrand themselves, I was always confused when I'd encounter reports of Soviet propaganda excoriating liberals as the wicked enemy, because as far as I could tell, liberals loved them some communism. After I understood that the word ‘liberal’ was being misused in American politics, it all made sense.

Ilíon said...

[... liberals loved them some communism] and *hated* anti-communists, such as myself, to the point that even if an individual "liberal" wasn't explicitly pro-communist, he was *always* anti-anti-communist.