Sunday, March 19, 2006

Why Rights are not Arbitrary

I've had critisism over of my adherance to the "Rule of Law" The cliche goes that all laws are arbitrary and that I just have preferences for certain arbitrary forms of structure over others. This is a moral relativism. By equivicating the right to property to the right to own a slave as both being void of a proven moral base and impossible to prove logically is intellectually shallow and evil. Laws are objective when they are consistantwith reality. The right to property is consitant with the right to life while the ownership of a person is not.

"Man is a certain kind of living organism--which leads to his need of morality and to man's life being the moral standard [of this morality]-- which leads to the right to act by the gudance of this standard, IE, the right to life. Reason is man's basic means of survival-- which leads to rationallity being the primary virtue (a virtue being what is needed to acheive values, a value being something that one works to obtain and maintain whether it is love, family or a SUV) -- which leads to the right to act in accordance with one's own judgement, IE, the right to liberty. Unlike animals, man does not survive by adjusting the given--which leads peoductiveness being a cardinal virtue-- which leads to the right to keep, use, and dispose of the things one has produced,IE, the right to property.

Since a proper philosophy is an intergrated system, each right rests not merely on a single ethical or metaphysical principle, but on all the principles just mentioned.

All rights rest on the fact that man's life is the moral standard. rights are the rights to the kind of actions necessary for the preservation of human life.

L. Peikoff

2 Comments:

At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arbitrary rights are the goal of many Canadians. 3 levels of government are constantly being lobbied to diminish people's rights. Often people no longer seem to even realize they should be allowed a choice about the next municipal diktat or rise in taxes.

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger P. M. Jaworski said...

Wow, this is a long comment... sorry, I got excited...:

"I've had critisism over of my adherance to the "Rule of Law" The cliche goes that all laws are arbitrary and that I just have preferences for certain arbitrary forms of structure over others. This is a moral relativism. By equivicating the right to property to the right to own a slave as both being void of a proven moral base and impossible to prove logically is intellectually shallow and evil."

Neither of these two criticisms are accurate. David Hume and Ken Binmore are hardly "intellectually shallow," yet they insisted on something awfully close to what you've just said. Similarly, a logical proof begins with some set of premises or things "given." Logic deals strictly with the relationship of arguments and propositions, *not* with their content. This is because you can literally prove anything and everything "logically," it just depends on what assumptions, or starting points, you begin with.

Let me give you an example: If the moon is round, then slavery is morally permissible. The moon is round. It follows, therefore, that slavery is morally permissible. This is a *logical* argument demonstrating the moral acceptability of slavery. Now suppose you want to quibble with my premise captured in the conditional. You can quibble if you want, but we will no longer be debating the *logic* of it, but the starting points, or the premises, which is not a question that logic answers.

And the final bit is sheer ad hominem. A person may have difficulty accepting that a logical or very good argument for why private property and slavery are very different is easily forthcoming, but that, surely, would not make them evil. Infants, for instance, don't have the requisite skills to make this assesment, and so may believe that all laws are, in fact, arbitrary, including the ones about property and slavery. That does not make them evil, just ignorant. Similarly, philosophers have a very difficult time putting together the kind of foolproof and knock-down arguments for your propositions, and many are skeptical that such arguments are available. That does not make them evil. It just makes them skeptical.

This may be an important distinction between what you consider evil, and what I do. I do not consider "beliefs," apart from actions, evil. No belief is evil, per se. All moral appraisal stems from actions, not from beliefs inside of my head. I can believe just anything I'd like and, so long as I only act on those things which are not evil, I am not evil. There are no thought-crimes, only criminal activities.

"Laws are objective when they are consistant with reality. The right to property is consitant with the right to life while the ownership of a person is not."

That may very well be, but we didn't always think that, and there are many people who do not now think that. But I'm not sure what "consistent with reality" means, exactly, and what bits of reality are relevant for moral appraisal, and for the laws that stem from moral appraisal.

In addition, David Hume said that just because things are a particular way does not mean that they ought to be that way. We need something to bridge what is commonly known as the "is/ought" gap. So what if we are the sorts of creatures that need to use our reason to continue living? Why should that lead us to conclude anything normative? We have to assume something like the claim that it is morally right that people be free to be reasonable. But this does not follow from the nature of man or the nature of the universe. Not obviously, anyways.

Here's a more interesting question: It may be the case that "man" (in general) is a specific sort of creature, but what do we say about anencaphallic infants? Marginal humans? The severely retarded? And so on. Shifting from humans to non-human animals, what do we do about super-genius gorillas and apes like Koko (who was judged to be at the level of an average 8-year-old child, or thereabouts)?

The difference between humans and animals is not a difference in kind, it is a difference in degree. We are more rational, in general, but not always, than animals, but it is not the case that animals fail to be rational. Some are. Dolphins, apes, pigs, and so on, are very good candidates for this. So what do we say about them?

"Reason is man's basic means of survival-- which leads to rationallity being the primary virtue (a virtue being what is needed to acheive values, a value being something that one works to obtain and maintain whether it is love, family or a SUV) -- which leads to the right to act in accordance with one's own judgement, IE, the right to liberty."

This always gets my knickers in a knot.

1. Why should "survival" be a standard? Why not, say, flourishing? What's so special about brute survival?

2. It is false that all men require liberty to survive or act. Politicians who restrict liberty do very well, thank you. And many who are under their thumbs survive as well. In fact, some of the most tyrannical and anti-liberty regimes have citizens that meet the standard of brute survival. It's a shitty life, but it isn't non-survival (i.e. death). Therefore it is false that men need liberty to survive. They need food, shelter, and defence against animals or humans that would kill them. But this is easily gotten in all manner of ways, liberty being, probably, the best. But it surely is not the only way.

3. The right to act in accordance with one's own judgment may violate the brute survival requirement. Consider cases of irrational folks who judge that a knife in their throat will help satiate their hunger. Or infants. Or those who want to kill themselves (something that I'm sure Objectivists don't disagree with). What we do in these cases, if anything, is an interesting question to ask. It isn't obvious that non-libertarian conclusions follow from the existence of these troubling cases. What does follow, however, is that Peikoff has a hole he needs to fill, or a story he needs to tell, to get around these cases. I haven't found his story. And I've looked. I've looked. At best, all I've found is "and if you don't agree with me, then you're evil."

"Since a proper philosophy is an intergrated system, each right rests not merely on a single ethical or metaphysical principle, but on all the principles just mentioned."

I disagree with the premise. Why should a proper philosophy be an integrated one? Why not be pluralist about it?

"All rights rest on the fact that man's life is the moral standard. rights are the rights to the kind of actions necessary for the preservation of human life."

Why "the kinds of actions necessary for the preservation of human life" and not "the stuff necessary for the preservation of human life"? Why shouldn't we say that man ought to have rights to life, from which it follows that man ought to have a right to sufficient calories, housing, and defence to meet the requirement of brute survival? If what we care about is survival, and not something else, why care about the method that typically yields the stuff necessary for survival, and not the stuff itself? Why insist that people jump through hoops?

I'm a libertarian, so I agree with the upshot of the story, but disagree with the way it gets there. I think Aristotelianism is a crappy way to get at liberty, although you can do it, and plenty of neo-Aristotelians (like Rand and Peikoff and that circle) do.

There's a lot of questions here, Angry, and I'm sure you have an answer to most of them. I look forward to your story, since I've been visiting your site regularly for just these sorts of posts. Good on you.

 

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