Karpel Tunnel wrote: ↑
May 31st, 2019, 12:19 pm
Rights have been expanding in scope since the early historical uses of the term. In the past different humans had different rights, even in single families. Some groups of humans did not have rights. There were also hierarchical differences between rights, with those at the top having rights those lower down did not. Neither sentience nor moral capabilities were the criteria for distinguishing between those who had rights or more rights than others. At some point rights got more equally distributed amongst humans and were extended even to humans who are not moral creatures - children, fetuses, people with severe dementia, etc.
A couple of cautions. It is true that the meaning of a "right" has changed over time. But the "classical sense" to which I referred was the sense given the term by the founders of liberalism, such as Hobbes, Locke, Blackstone, Kant, Jefferson, and others. It was then that the "rights" came to be seen as having a moral basis, as denoting liberties or prerogatives commanded by universal moral principles. Prior to that time a "right" meant merely a prerogative or privilege customarily accorded or acknowledged, or granted by a reigning monarch. Hence what "rights" people had varied with time and place. No fundamental moral basis was invoked or assumed (the term is used in this sense in the Magna Carta). The "natural rights" of the liberals were not subject to the vicissitudes of custom or the whims of monarchs. Moreover, when attributing "rights" to societies other than European societies, or to the latter prior to the 12th century or so, scholars tend to use that modern term to denote some practice or doctrine the term seems to "fit," but the concept of a "right," as we understand it (i.e., as a moral property), was actually unknown in those societies. No Bills of Rights, Declarations of Rights, or philosophical expositions or analyses of rights were produced by those societies.
Secondly, you have to keep in mind the difference between natural rights (as understood in the liberal tradition) and legal rights. Rights declared or enforced by law often have little or no relation to liberal rights.
And finally, you need to distinguish between having
rights and respecting
rights. That someone has a right does not entail that it is universally or even widely respected or recognized. Whether someone has a right is a question of fact; it signifies that the liberty or property to which the right is claimed entails no loss or injury to other moral agents, and thus is morally defensible. Africans, women, serfs, and other systematically oppressed people certainly did have rights, all along. It was that fact that was eventually acknowledged and that led to the abolition of slavery, feudalism, and the "civil rights" movement. We "extended" legal
rights to those groups, but not the natural rights they always had.
The OP writer does not believe objective morals exist. So when we create rights we are making something up. We are saying something about how we would like to behave and treat others.
If by "OP writer" you mean me, you are quite mistaken. I am a a moral objectivist. We make up words, of course, but we don't make up the things we use those words to denote. What we denote by imputing a right to someone is an objective fact, empirically verifiable, about that person and the thing to which he claims a right. It has nothing to do with what anyone likes or dislikes.
Classically, to say that someone had a "right" to possess and use some tangible thing (a property right) or to do something (a liberty right) meant that the person had acquired that thing righteously, i.e., without inflicting loss or injury on anyone else, or that his doing that act would inflict no loss or injury on anyone else. I.e., that his act or property claim was innocent, and thus morally permissible and defensible. Per the Newspeak definition adopted by leftist ideologues, to say that someone has a "right" to something means he needs it, or wants it, or that it is required in order to live the "good life" as envisioned by the ideologue. The moral character of the claimant's actions are not considered or deemed relevant.
I think this is a distortion or at best a partial conception of rights...
Women and children were often not granted rights per se where men were. Not because they had been immoral. Sometimes fetuses were granted rights - or at least abortion was considered immoral in some societies, sometimes they were not. These rules were not governed by lack of harm to others, since the parents would be punished, or based on the morality of the fetus. . . .
As I said, whether someone has a right and whether that right is respected, or codified in law, are two different things.
Both the right and the left have extended the scope of the term, which is one created by humans and which has no objective correlate.
But it does, as stated above.
Rights are not made of anything. We cannot examine them physically.
That is true. A right is not a physical property of a thing, such as shape or mass or color. We cannot tell whether P
has a right to x
by examining P
alone. Rather, it denotes a historical relation between P
, so we must instead examine their history to decide whether the rights claim is true. But that doesn't make it any less objective than, say, the claim, "P
IOW if one believes in democracy, then extending rights via democratic processes is not conceptually incorrect, but an expression of our creative use of a concept.
I fail to see what belief in democracy has to do with whether a public policy, or the arguments for it, are "conceptually incorrect." But my argument is not that imputing "rights" to non- moral agents, and even to non- sentient entities and processes, is "conceptually incorrect," but that it cannot be done without purging it of the moral import the concept acquired in the liberal era. It once again becomes a morally meaningless term, a property arbitrarily imputed to whatever some demagogue decrees, and revocable at his whim.
BTW, as to "belief in democracy," I do not accord that mode of governing has having any special powers or prerogatives, or any special wisdom or moral status. Unless constrained by objective moral principles (such as those articulated in a Bill of Rights) a tyranny of the majority is just as odious as any other tyranny. A majority can change the meaning of a term, but they can't change the moral facts the term previously denoted.
I think modern conceptions of this right are not simply weighing in and saying that it causes less injury to allow minority faiths, but something more fundamental about how we want people to be free without trying to calculate the pluses and minuses.
That is an odd statement. We want them to be free of what, if not from injury, loss, suffering, and arbitrary constraints? The right to practice the religion of one's choice is a natural liberty right, defensible on the same grounds, and subject to the same constraints, as all other liberty rights.
And certainly the brain damaged children have been granted rights even if they never will be able to be moral agents and certainly before they are.
But they are moral subjects
(or "moral patients"). Moral subjects have some of the properties of moral agents, and some of the rights.
Thanks, KT, for dragging this thread back on-topic.