The Declaration of Independence reads in part, "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."
Yet Objectivism holds that rights are contextual; that they may be violated when circumstances reasonably call for it, such as the death penalty for heinous crimes.
Reference to a "Creator" aside, is the statement in the Declaration of Independence then false by Objectivist standards?
Objectivism holds that rights are contextual absolutes. What this means is that rights arise in a particular context and apply absolutely within that context. The principle of rights arises to define and protect the individual's freedom of action in society, and that is the context in which it applies. Punishing those who have violated the rights of others is not itself a rights violation. It is a defense and vindication of rights -- the rights of those victimized by the criminal.
One could say that the criminal has 'alienated' his rights by choosing to victimize others, but it would be more accurate to say that through his actions he has placed himself outside the context in which his rights apply. The criminal has the same rights as everyone else -- which do not include the right to violate the rights of others.
The part of that passage in the Declaration that Objectivism views as definitely incorrect comes slightly earlier: Jefferson to the contrary notwithstanding, the principle of individual rights is not self-evident.
answered Feb 08 '12 at 14:19
Kyle Haight ♦