Where Do Rights Come From?

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Marvin_Edwards
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Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 21st, 2020, 10:33 pm

Rhetorical versus Practical Rights

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson speaks both rhetorically and practically about rights:
Jefferson wrote:We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
When Jefferson speaks of men being “endowed by their Creator” with certain rights, he is speaking rhetorically. The purpose of rhetoric is to win people over to your viewpoint, often by appealing to their emotions. But, at the time of the American Revolution, the opposite side could equally argue the “divine right of kings”. The problem with this rhetorical position is that it would require the Creator to come down and settle the matter. He didn’t, and war ensued.

The same may be said when people speak of “natural rights” or “inherent rights”. There are no objective criteria to determine the “naturalness” or the “inherentness” of a given right. Such claims are rhetorical assertions.

Practical Rights

In the second part of the Jefferson’s statement, he addresses rights from a practical view: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

All practical rights arise by agreement. We agree to respect and protect certain rights for each other. For example, we agree to a right to property. We respect this right by not stealing from each other. We protect this right by passing laws against theft, establishing a system of justice to enforce these laws, and, most important, by calling the police if we see someone breaking into our neighbors house while he’s away.

Rather than just a rhetorical claim to a right, we now have both the means of reaching further agreements by legislation, and a practical mechanism to deal with those who would infringe. Rules and rights are two sides of the same coin.

The Problem of Reaching Agreement

We can measure, in a general sense, the moral value of a right. Consider the recently added right of two people of the same sex to marry. We can ask ourselves, “What are the consequences if we agree to respect and protect this right for everyone? What benefits and harms will follow? Will we all be better off adopting this right and creating a rule to protect it?" Assessing consequences in terms of the benefits and harms for everyone, is called moral judgment.

Because none of us has a “God’s eye view” of the ultimate outcome of our choices, it is possible for two good and honest persons to disagree about what a right or rule should be. The best we can do to resolve differences is to gather the best information, consider different options, make our best estimates of the benefits and harms of each option, and then vote democratically. This establishes the working rule we put into effect.

After some experience with the rule, we will have better information and may alter or remove the rule. Sometimes rights and rules change because our moral judgment evolves. There once was a legal right to own slaves, protected by laws requiring the return of runaways. Now the right of every person to be free is protected by laws against slavery.

Law and Conscience

The moral judgment of society may also differ from the moral judgment of our conscience. We answer to both. Conscience often leads us to advocate a new law or work to repeal a bad one. In some cases, the judgment of conscience will find a law so egregious that the person must choose not to comply. Before slavery was abolished, many people broke the law by helping fugitive slaves escape. And conscience compelled many Germans to hide Jewish citizens in their homes in Nazi Germany.

Sometimes law accommodates conscience. People with a religious belief, that they must never kill anyone, not even in war, were classified “conscientious objector” in past wars, and given other duties that did not require carrying a gun.

Conclusion

So that is where rights come from. They come from us using moral judgment to decide what rights will benefit us all and which rules will best protect them. As our moral sense evolves, rights and rules may change, but hopefully always toward a more perfect good for everyone.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Terrapin Station » May 22nd, 2020, 6:51 am

Rights are moral stances that individuals feel should be inviolable even by law or custom.

Some rights wind up codified as law, such as the U.S.'s Bill of Rights. That's simply a matter of people with the power to enact laws deciding to do this.

Rights, like all other moral stances, simply come from our heads, from the way our brains work.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Newme » May 22nd, 2020, 10:29 am

Interesting topic!
Since Jefferson's quote about rights coming from our Creator was mentioned, it may be good to explore what God/Creator is. I see 3 main aspects of God...

1) Intelligent Design (plenty of proof)
2) Intuition & spiritual feeling within
3) Conscience and choice to act on it or not in regards to others.

Marvin, as you mentioned, rights are established & protected based on agreement among people, and I’d add using intelligence, intuition, conscience and choice. Part of all of that involves considering what is best for the individual, society - now and in the future. Truth must be considered, no matter how it may hurt someone’s feelings. Often sparing feelings short term, ends up causing more suffering long term.

Rights are also based on empathy. It reminds me of a book, Anatomy of Peace, in which is discussed hatred among warring groups (in Palestine) & how when seeing someone in need, no matter who it is, our natural human 1st instinct is to do what we can to help. This natural inclination may be stifled based on prejudice. Then belief “boxes” interfere...

Image
“Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering.” - Epicurus

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by LuckyR » May 22nd, 2020, 3:20 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 21st, 2020, 10:33 pm
Rhetorical versus Practical Rights

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson speaks both rhetorically and practically about rights:
Jefferson wrote:We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
When Jefferson speaks of men being “endowed by their Creator” with certain rights, he is speaking rhetorically. The purpose of rhetoric is to win people over to your viewpoint, often by appealing to their emotions. But, at the time of the American Revolution, the opposite side could equally argue the “divine right of kings”. The problem with this rhetorical position is that it would require the Creator to come down and settle the matter. He didn’t, and war ensued.

The same may be said when people speak of “natural rights” or “inherent rights”. There are no objective criteria to determine the “naturalness” or the “inherentness” of a given right. Such claims are rhetorical assertions.

Practical Rights

In the second part of the Jefferson’s statement, he addresses rights from a practical view: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

All practical rights arise by agreement. We agree to respect and protect certain rights for each other. For example, we agree to a right to property. We respect this right by not stealing from each other. We protect this right by passing laws against theft, establishing a system of justice to enforce these laws, and, most important, by calling the police if we see someone breaking into our neighbors house while he’s away.

Rather than just a rhetorical claim to a right, we now have both the means of reaching further agreements by legislation, and a practical mechanism to deal with those who would infringe. Rules and rights are two sides of the same coin.

The Problem of Reaching Agreement

We can measure, in a general sense, the moral value of a right. Consider the recently added right of two people of the same sex to marry. We can ask ourselves, “What are the consequences if we agree to respect and protect this right for everyone? What benefits and harms will follow? Will we all be better off adopting this right and creating a rule to protect it?" Assessing consequences in terms of the benefits and harms for everyone, is called moral judgment.

Because none of us has a “God’s eye view” of the ultimate outcome of our choices, it is possible for two good and honest persons to disagree about what a right or rule should be. The best we can do to resolve differences is to gather the best information, consider different options, make our best estimates of the benefits and harms of each option, and then vote democratically. This establishes the working rule we put into effect.

After some experience with the rule, we will have better information and may alter or remove the rule. Sometimes rights and rules change because our moral judgment evolves. There once was a legal right to own slaves, protected by laws requiring the return of runaways. Now the right of every person to be free is protected by laws against slavery.

Law and Conscience

The moral judgment of society may also differ from the moral judgment of our conscience. We answer to both. Conscience often leads us to advocate a new law or work to repeal a bad one. In some cases, the judgment of conscience will find a law so egregious that the person must choose not to comply. Before slavery was abolished, many people broke the law by helping fugitive slaves escape. And conscience compelled many Germans to hide Jewish citizens in their homes in Nazi Germany.

Sometimes law accommodates conscience. People with a religious belief, that they must never kill anyone, not even in war, were classified “conscientious objector” in past wars, and given other duties that did not require carrying a gun.

Conclusion

So that is where rights come from. They come from us using moral judgment to decide what rights will benefit us all and which rules will best protect them. As our moral sense evolves, rights and rules may change, but hopefully always toward a more perfect good for everyone.
"Rights" are a retrospective rationalization to justify rules or laws. Legislators don't write laws based on beliefs/rights then wait to see the consequences. Rather they imagine a "better" (for themselves, their constituents, or everyone) future and try to craft a rule/law to bring about that future.

Later, in order to justify the law, they either cite the benefit directly (tell the truth) or if that would offend, they cite a "right" that supposedly was the prospective reason for their law (a lie).
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by gad-fly » May 22nd, 2020, 5:46 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 21st, 2020, 10:33 pm

people speak of “natural rights” or “inherent rights”. There are no objective criteria to determine the “naturalness” or the “inherentness” of a given right. Such claims are rhetorical assertions.

We can measure, in a general sense, the moral value of a right. Consider the recently added right of two people of the same sex to marry. The best we can do is to make our best estimates of the benefits and harms of each option, and then vote democratically. This establishes the working rule we put into effect.

The moral judgment of society may also differ from the moral judgment of our conscience. We answer to both.

So that is where rights come from. They come from us using moral judgment to decide what rights will benefit us all and which rules will best protect them.
On first para. above, why not leave natural right and inherent right alone since they are rhetorical.

On second. We cannot measure the evasive moral value, as in gay marriage. You can shake or nod, you can respect their privacy, and you can vote in referendum, but you do not make moral judgment.

On third. By moral judgment of society, I take you to mean "the law".

On the fourth. First, you have hybridized law and rule. Law protects us legally and openly. Rule protects us morally, often leaving us to self-defense. Take someone jumping the queue ahead of you. Second, rights is not about benefit and harm. It is about being fair and orderly peace.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by GregRogers » May 22nd, 2020, 6:58 pm

I don't understand what the relevance "majority opinion" is as to whether gay marriage is acceptable. So, if the majority believes in slavery... is slavery ethical?

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Greta » May 22nd, 2020, 7:06 pm

But gay marriage is the bonding of two people who love each other. Slavery is about detaining people against their will and forcing them into labour. That the majority of people can tell the difference is encouraging.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 7:49 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 6:51 am
Rights are moral stances that individuals feel should be inviolable even by law or custom.
Yes, that is the court of conscience, which may disagree with a court of law.
Terrapin Station wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 6:51 am
Some rights wind up codified as law, such as the U.S.'s Bill of Rights. That's simply a matter of people with the power to enact laws deciding to do this.
Of course.
Terrapin Station wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 6:51 am
Rights, like all other moral stances, simply come from our heads, from the way our brains work.
Well, our brains work with both reason and emotion. And sometimes one brain comes up with a different set of rights than another. For example, the ability to enslave others was for a long time considered a natural right. It was morally superior to killing ones enemy, his family, and his children.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 7:59 pm

Newme wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 10:29 am
Interesting topic!
Since Jefferson's quote about rights coming from our Creator was mentioned, it may be good to explore what God/Creator is. I see 3 main aspects of God...

1) Intelligent Design (plenty of proof)
2) Intuition & spiritual feeling within
3) Conscience and choice to act on it or not in regards to others.
Well,we hope that rights are intelligently designed, whether designed by "God" or by us.
Newme wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 10:29 am
Marvin, as you mentioned, rights are established & protected based on agreement among people, and I’d add using intelligence, intuition, conscience and choice. Part of all of that involves considering what is best for the individual, society - now and in the future. Truth must be considered, no matter how it may hurt someone’s feelings. Often sparing feelings short term, ends up causing more suffering long term.
All good points. And I'm especially fond of Truth.
Newme wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 10:29 am
Rights are also based on empathy. It reminds me of a book, Anatomy of Peace, in which is discussed hatred among warring groups (in Palestine) & how when seeing someone in need, no matter who it is, our natural human 1st instinct is to do what we can to help. This natural inclination may be stifled based on prejudice. Then belief “boxes” interfere...
Empathy is indeed the key. Hey, I had problems reading the small type in the boxes in that image. Is "Anatomy of Peace" the book by Oliver Wyman? I just ordered it for my kindle. I'm in the middle of another book at the moment, but it sounds like a good read.

If the image is in the book then I'll see it there. Thanks for the recommendation.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 8:03 pm

LuckyR wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 3:20 pm

"Rights" are a retrospective rationalization to justify rules or laws. Legislators don't write laws based on beliefs/rights then wait to see the consequences. Rather they imagine a "better" (for themselves, their constituents, or everyone) future and try to craft a rule/law to bring about that future.

Later, in order to justify the law, they either cite the benefit directly (tell the truth) or if that would offend, they cite a "right" that supposedly was the prospective reason for their law (a lie).
Rights are based on notions of "how things ought to be", which is identical to what you are saying, "they imagine a "better" (for themselves, their constituents, or everyone) future and try to craft a rule/law to bring about that future." And you are exactly right.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 8:21 pm

gad-fly wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 5:46 pm
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 21st, 2020, 10:33 pm

people speak of “natural rights” or “inherent rights”. There are no objective criteria to determine the “naturalness” or the “inherentness” of a given right. Such claims are rhetorical assertions.

We can measure, in a general sense, the moral value of a right. Consider the recently added right of two people of the same sex to marry. The best we can do is to make our best estimates of the benefits and harms of each option, and then vote democratically. This establishes the working rule we put into effect.

The moral judgment of society may also differ from the moral judgment of our conscience. We answer to both.

So that is where rights come from. They come from us using moral judgment to decide what rights will benefit us all and which rules will best protect them.
On first para. above, why not leave natural right and inherent right alone since they are rhetorical.

On second. We cannot measure the evasive moral value, as in gay marriage. You can shake or nod, you can respect their privacy, and you can vote in referendum, but you do not make moral judgment.

On third. By moral judgment of society, I take you to mean "the law".

On the fourth. First, you have hybridized law and rule. Law protects us legally and openly. Rule protects us morally, often leaving us to self-defense. Take someone jumping the queue ahead of you. Second, rights is not about benefit and harm. It is about being fair and orderly peace.
I felt I had to clarify that "natural" and "inherent" were indeed rhetorical claims.

There is moral judgment in the issue of gay marriage. Moral judgment seeks the best good and least harm for everyone. The prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ is an unnecessary harm. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders removed being gay from its list of disorders because the only problems gay people experienced were due to the attitudes and behavior of others. The issue is whether gay marriage is harmful to anyone else. If not, then gay marriage produces a benefit without creating harm. Thus, a net moral gain (as long as gay marriage is only practiced by gay people).

Well, the law, in theory, protects rights that we feel should be respected and protected for everyone. It ought to remain silent as to other moral issues.

There is morality, which seeks the best good and least harm for everyone. Then there are the rule systems: mores, customs, ethics, rules, laws. The point of any rule system is to make things morally better.
gad-fly wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 5:46 pm
"Second, rights is not about benefit and harm. It is about being fair and orderly peace."
But isn't being fair and maintaining orderly peace a benefit and reduction of harm?

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 8:26 pm

GregRogers wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 6:58 pm
I don't understand what the relevance "majority opinion" is as to whether gay marriage is acceptable. So, if the majority believes in slavery... is slavery ethical?
Well, slavery would be more moral than killing ones enemy, his family, and his children. Moral judgment compares any two rules or courses of action in terms of benefits and harms, and chooses the one that has the best consequences.

But then we had a second moral judgment, between a rule that required runaway slaves to be returned to their owner, versus a rule that outlawed slavery. And we chose to outlaw slavery.

That's moral progress. Was slavery ever ethical? Well, yes, in the sense that ethics is a set of rules that people live by. Was slavery ever moral? Well, yes, in comparison to killing ones enemy to the last man, woman, and child.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » May 22nd, 2020, 8:29 pm

Greta wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 7:06 pm
But gay marriage is the bonding of two people who love each other. Slavery is about detaining people against their will and forcing them into labour. That the majority of people can tell the difference is encouraging.
Amen.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by Ecurb » May 22nd, 2020, 9:37 pm

One thing is certain: the "right to life" cannot be "unalienable" in nations that allow capital punishment; the right to liberty cannot be unalienable in nations that imprison criminals. The case for the "pursuit of happiness" is, perhaps, less clear.

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Re: Where Do Rights Come From?

Post by gad-fly » May 22nd, 2020, 11:31 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 8:21 pm
gad-fly wrote:
May 22nd, 2020, 5:46 pm
"Second, rights is not about benefit and harm. It is about being fair and orderly peace."
But isn't being fair and maintaining orderly peace a benefit and reduction of harm?
Not appropriate. Benefit and harm is utilitarian. Plus or minus. Right is about balance. Give and take. Being fair to self and all. Benefit and harm is out of the picture.

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