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The Argument Clinic

Email Zoloft posting in The Argument Clinic
User: argument_clinic (posted by mitdasein)
Date: August 18th, 2006
Subject: rights
Security: Public
Here is a bit of an argument I had on my personal blog about the concept of rights. Feel free to perpetuate the chaos:

Me:
On another note, I've thought for years that the concept of "rights" was nice from a humane standpoint but philosophically meaningless, though I've never really bothered to refine my thoughts on this more clearly. Maybe if some of you pick fights with me on that, it will help me get motivated to develop what I think.

I repeat: I don't really believe in "rights."
That said, I do believe ethical behavior is possible and good.
Discuss.

Someone Else:

It is my "right" as a human being to be treated with respect.

That doesn't necessarily happen, but that is one of my perceived rights that I will fight for. How is that philosophically meaningless?

Me:
"philosophically meaningless" may have been the wrong way to put it. maybe what I meant is that it is only meaningful phiosophically.

What is this "right"? can you define a right without either using the word "right" or that to which the right pertains? (i.e., the right to free speech, reproductive freedom, dignity, overtime pay, ownership of slaves, self-defense, or anything else that people have claimed the right to over the millenia.)

I think that this comes down to the question of whether there is a basic moral underpinning to the universe, something you believe in (correct me if I'm wrong) and I don't.

Pragmatically speaking, of course, I believe in acting as though rights are real, i.e. the right to vote, to be treated with respect, to free expression, etc. I am in favor of liberty, compassion, mutual aid and other values that are easier for me to define, and I am in favor of "rights" as a means to furthering these goals that I think are worthy. I think that the concept of rights can be a useful way to discourage the creation of unneeded cruelty and suffering, but i think "rights" have no existence outside of human ethical systems, whether legal systems instituted by governments or the rights-endowed-by-creators that revolutionaries and reformers cite in support of their efforts to change governments.

In other words, I'm in favor of the kind of freedoms promoted by documents like the Bill of Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but I think that "rights" is just kind of a placeholder word that doesn't apply to anything real.
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