Another Effort to Void Our Basic Rights
In this short essay I address an argument concerning welfare rights made against the late Robert Nozick by Adrian Bardon a while back.
Bardon brings up an issue that's central concerning the nature of basic individual rights that the American founders proposed as the foundations of a constitutional government (and were, in fact, partly incorporated and elaborated in the Bill of Rights).
Bardon argues that he has successfully "cast doubt on that approach to rights" that holds that "there are negative rights that cannot be outweighed." Interestingly, there is no need to go much further since Bardon's way of putting his point already shows how wide off the mark he is concerning an essential feature or nature of rights. Specifically, individual rights, the unalienable sort the Declaration lists, aren't like other good things − such as ice skating, volleyball, dinner at home or at a restaurant, a vacation in Hawaii or one in Italy − which may be weighed and compared. It's a category mistake to think they are, not unlike thinking that one can weigh seconds or that fingers can think about something.
Consider a very widely accepted right, that of a woman to be free of rape. What would it mean to have such a right outweighed? Bardon's conception of such a basic right raises the possibility that someone might weigh it against, say, a desperate male's desire to gain sexual satisfaction by using her against her will. But this is quite out of the question − the two are incomparable, incommensurate. The right to be free is a principle − a firm limit or a basic standard of just conduct if you will − which identifies the fact that women are free to do as they choose involving their own bodies, that they are sovereign authorities concerning how to live their sex lives, regarding to whom they will give their consent to engage in sex, etc.
Of course, Bardon is concerned with property rights but he forgets that these, too, are rights to action, not rights to objects. As Ayn Rand makes clear, "the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values."
Put another way, the right to private property is a right to acquire and to hold − which are both actions − various items no one has previously acquired and is holding − or ones others who have acquired them and are holding are willing, freely, to part with (another action).
So, in fact, private property rights are akin to rights to act freely − as when one acts to engage in consensual sex or work or recreation. In the case of property rights, one acts to engage in, as it were, consensual acquisition or holding of some items. (Notice, no one may impose ownership on another against his or her consent because of this right to freedom of actions such as acquisition and holding.)
Thus, property rights identify someone's sphere or range of freedom of action vis-à-vis items in the world, not unlike the manner in which the right to freedom of speech spells out spheres of freedom of action vis-à-vis verbal or written expression of ideas. Indeed, these latter presuppose the right to private property, for speeches need to be given someplace to which one has a right or gained permission from those who do, and writing takes places on materials (paper, blackboards, sand, computers, etc.)
Now it is true that others could well desperately need the items someone has come to own by exercising the right to acquisition and holding but since that exercise may not be interfered with and interference with it would place others in the position of violating the agent's basic rights − that is, sovereignty − consent needs to be secured in order to obtain even such desperately needed items. A need cannot be weighed against a right any more than a wish or desire or urgent want can be weighed against a right.
There can be no weighing involved, not between rights, nor between rights and needs, etc., although a rights holder could very well weigh whether to hang on to what he or she owns, contribute it to the person in dire need, to some cause or project, or otherwise dispose of it in light of his or her weighing of the importance of these alternative possibilities. The weighing is not of different rights or different people's rights but of the importance or value of the goals to which one may contribute what one has the right to freely acquire.
Here is what would happen if the weighing were about rights. Someone would have to do the weighing. By what right would such a person weigh other people's rights? Would that person's right to weigh also be open to being weighed? By whom? The whole process would amount to a conceptual and public policy mess.
In fact, the role − or conceptual point − of basic individual rights is to remove from public policy, based on constitutional laws that rest on rights, the element of arbitrariness by basing decisions on self-consistent, compossible principles − that is, on the rule of law − instead. The very conceptual point of rights within the sphere of social, political and legal policy is lost if they are subject to being weighed since they are supposed to be the rock bottom of public policy decision making − if I have a right to do X, this is the end of the story − none may act against me as I do X.
There is no such thing as "weighing rights" − the idea is what philosophers call a category mistake, akin to talk about weighing, say, time or concepts. Indeed, to even consider weighing rights is to suggest that the importance of human beings, vis-à-vis their place in the citizenry, may be weighed against each other within the realm of politics, something that had been abandoned once the idea of inherent status was jettisoned, finally, so no one could justly claim to be more important than someone else as far as the law of the land is concerned.
Tibor Machan is the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA 92866.
Posted by dave jr on 11/23/12 10:04 AM
And aggression is not limited to violent acts, but to anything that threatens life and livlehood. Would we go so far as to include well being? Jefferson included "the pursuit of happiness".
Posted by rossbcan on 11/23/12 09:27 AM
@DJ: "What is seldom mentioned concerning "rights" is the need to defend them."
Leading directly to the question of whom initiated aggression? A primary subversion of predatory elites is altering, sometimes reversing the timeline of events (historical revision) and, by subverted arguments assuming static (as opposed to adaptive) human nature, tricks people into considering actions out of time context, so, "we, the fools" conclude that "terrorist acts" are done by foul subhumans (implying: extermination is the solution, as the Nazis also opined), as opposed to human beings whom have been pushed into a corner, defending themselves, on an escalating tit for tat action / consequence sequence.
Lew Rockwell has a timely article on this very topic:
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Posted by dave jr on 11/23/12 08:25 AM
That is the only definition where "rights" are inalieable, or can not be taken away.
Posted by dave jr on 11/23/12 08:18 AM
What is seldom mentioned concerning "rights" is the need to defend them. Government is created for this purpose but fails miserably.
I wonder about the word "rights". Could it be a description of a situation where no matter the outcome one is considered to be "right". Where no matter the outcome everyone looks the other way? Even if the outcome is eliminating another man. Under what condition would this be "right"? Rights are a declaration of what we intend to defend, is it not?
Posted by 1776 on 11/22/12 09:04 PM
NSA is looking for a few good hackers By Tabassum Zakaria, Published: August 2, 2011
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Posted by Swemson on 11/22/12 07:46 PM
Or... ... ..
As Ayn Rand said: "Need is not a claim."
Brilliant article... . thank you sir!
Posted by Americanist on 11/22/12 02:30 PM
I often strip away man made instrumentalities such as government, imagining instead a world in which there is only the planet and humans. Would you need to get your fellow human's permission to grow tomatoes and offer them for sale to another? Would I need a license to conduct actions that we all have in common? If we all honor and respect our common inalienable rights to action then we would live in a prosperous and peaceful world.
Now we can easily see that government stifles rightful actions and siphons off or steals a portion of our gainful actions. Theft becomes institutionalized and evolves into a system of collectivized legal plunder, everyone plundering everyone else. The sad thing is that, in so doing, we are essentially slitting our own wrists!
Posted by victorbarney on 11/22/12 12:12 PM
Dr. Tibor Machan, America is being RUN by our MARXIST ORIENTED CIA, NOT BY "WE THE PEOPLE!" Just saying, what is, is... WATCH!
Posted by Danny B on 11/22/12 11:33 AM
Bardon examines terrain until he finds a pebble that seems like it doesn't belong. Then, he metaphorically blows it up all out of proportion.
"The theorist who denies the objective reality of non-relational temporal properties, or 'A-series' determinations, must explain our experience of the passage of time. D.H. Mellor, a prominent denier of the objective reality of temporal passage, draws, in part, on Kant in offering a theory according to which the experience of temporal passage is the result of the projection of change in belief. But Mellor has missed some important points Kant has to make about time-awareness. It turns out that Kant's theory of time-awareness also involves projection - but for him, the projection of temporal passage is necessary to any coherent experience at all, and for this reason events in the world cannot be represented except as exhibiting real tensed change. Consequently we cannot intelligibly suppose the world we know to be without the passage of time. This fact would permit a modest transcendental argument the conclusion of which is that we are entitled to describe the world in terms of temporal passage. "
It isn't realistic to try to nail down the nature of the passage of time. We can define time as related to the vibrations of a hydrogen atom but what good is that?
An Accutron watch references time from the vibrations of quartz. But, an Accutron watch loses about 2 1/2 minutes a day when it is inside the boundaries of the Oregon Vortex. Einstein said that time runs slower in the Oregon Vortex.
Temporal passage varies. It's that simple.
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Bardon looks for a weakness in natural rights and then claims success. He produces tortured logic as proof. Tortured logic and circular logic are the historical buttresses of fabulous ideas.
Posted by rossbcan on 11/22/12 07:55 AM
TM: "Someone would have to do the weighing. By what right would such a person weigh other people's rights? Would that person's right to weigh also be open to being weighed? By whom?"
"Whom" are the arrogant a$$holes who equate "the law" with their sorry persons and subjective interpretations, achieving "rule of some men, over others", not "rule of law". And, fools tolerate this "sleight of words", "bait and switch". THEY claim to be "helping", they do not lie, they are "helping themselves".
and, aargh, it really irks me to have the "rule of law" invoked and bandied about as some sort of ill defined, in the perception of the beholder concept, as opposed to a FACT with a REAL, actionable definition:
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