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I've read articles about this but they were always too jargony for me. Could someone explain the essentialist/abstractions argument that justifies inherent human rights in simpler terms? Thanks!

asked Jan 25 '12 at 12:34

Cobi%20Ashkenazi's gravatar image

Cobi Ashkenazi

edited Jan 25 '12 at 12:44

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Does the Golden Rule work for you?

(Jan 25 '12 at 12:46) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Dr. Tara Smith presented a convincing logic statement in the early chapters of her book Moral Rights and Political Freedom which I believe will answer your question. Dr. Smith is a very eloquent writer and can deliver a message effectively without using complex grammar or advanced semantics. If you are interested in learning more about the Objectivist theory of rights, I would highly recommend it. It can be purchased here. The statement is as follows:

  1. Human life requires productive effort.
  2. Productive effort requires reasoned action.
  3. Reasoned action is individual, and self-authored.
  4. Reasoned action requires freedom.
  5. Thus if we seek to live in a society in which individuals are to have a chance to maintain their lives, we must recognize individual rights to freedom.

It can't get much simpler than that. Now obviously, the book goes into further detail on each point, but I hope this gives you what you are looking for.

answered Jan 25 '12 at 19:00

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

Tretracide addressed the validation of rights; I want to address the epistemological issues I noticed in your question. Correct me if I am misreading you, but it seems like you are stuck in what objectivism holds to be a false dichotomy: subjectivism vs. intrinsicism.

Subjectivism holds that truth is whatever a ruling consciousness deems it to be---there are various versions, depending on what consciousness is considered important: God, society, or each individual making up their own "truth."

Intrinsicism is held by many (not objectivists) to be the only alternative to subjectivism. It holds that there is an absolute truth independent of consciousness, but that truth is some "thing" out there in the world. They "regard the referents of concepts as intrinsic, i.e., as 'universals' inherent in things (either as archetypes or as metaphysical essences), as special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly, like any other kind of concrete existents, but perceived by some non-sensory or extra-sensory means." Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 53.

Objectivism recognizes that truth is a recognition by consciousness of facts in reality.

Objectivity is . . . the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.

Ayn Rand, “Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” The Objectivist Newsletter, Feb. 1965, p. 7.

How does this relate to your question about rights? You ask whether rights are subjective, and then contrast that with "inherent rights." Be careful about thinking about rights as "inherent." Rights aren't things out there in the world---they do not inhere in persons. Now you may not have meant this when you said that, but it is important to be precise on this issue because there is a sizable contingent of supposed advocates of individual rights who really do believe that rights are inherent in (literally in) human beings. They usually are religious, and believe that rights exist because God gave them to us---notice how they reify rights . . . to them they are things that can be given to people or are in people. Subjectivists are then able to counter the intrincisits by asking "where are these supposed rights? Point them out to me---I can't find them. They must not exist." The subjectivist, having demolished the intrinsicist (who is left stammering "But God put them there!"), take over and declares that rights are whatever society says they are.

Objectivists believe that rights are moral principles. They are objective because they rest on identifications of facts in reality (the facts that Tetracide relates). They are not subjective, even though they must be identified by consciousnesses, because the facts really are out there to be identified. However they are not intrinsic because the right itself is not out there in the world to be identified, but rather is an abstraction formed by man's mind.

answered Jan 26 '12 at 11:18

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

I realize now that I was misusing the word "inherent", and a better word would be "inalienable" or "existing". I still don't understand how we can determine the right to freedom- how do we refute that humans can exist independent of their rights?

(Jan 26 '12 at 15:26) Cobi Ashkenazi Cobi%20Ashkenazi's gravatar image

The claim is not that humans cannot exist without rights. The claim is that they cannot live as humans ought to live, that is as rational beings, without rights. One might be deprived of ones rights and yet be kept alive in the sense of still breathing and heart still beating. The principle of rights protects the ability of men to live together in society as moral human beings. According to the objectivist ethics, to be moral one must make rational choices in support of ones life. If men are to live qua men then they must be free to make rational choices--ie the right to freedom.

(Jan 26 '12 at 16:38) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 25 '12 at 12:34

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Last updated: Jan 26 '12 at 16:38