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The meaning of "natural" in natural rights
Submitted by Tom Burroughes on Tue, 2012-04-03 18:59
Legal activist, scholar and Rand fan Timothy Sandefur has an interesting response here (http://sandefur.typepad.com/fr...) to an article by Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard. Essentially, Biddle and Sandefur are having a slight disagreement (only slight, though) about the expression, "natural rights". Tim reckons is this is a useful term, that rights are inherent (NOT intrinsic) to humans based on the kind of beings that humans are. He also disagrees that "natural rights" is a term that should be avoided because some religious people once favoured the term.
I recommend reading the original article and Tim's own response. Here's a key set of paragraphs:
"The confusion, of course, arises from the abuse of the term “natural” rights to refer to supernatural rights theories—the idea that man has rights because God says so. Of course, as with all such claims about the will of God, this renders rights arbitrary, groundless, and subjective. Man’s rights are then a matter of mere whim or supernatural diktat—God could just as easily have chosen otherwise—so that rights bear no necessary relationship to the qualities of being a human being. To refer to this as a “natural” rights theory is to exploit a characteristic Enlightenment ambiguity—that is, it makes sense only if one assumes a sort of deistic or pantheistic unity of God and nature which (like all such deistic or pantheistic theories) renders God surplus to requirements."
"Biddle answers as follows: rights are not a physical characteristic of man, “like bones or lungs,” but are “mental integrations of observed facts.” Rights, as principles, relate to abstractions which are not “natural” because they do not exist in physical reality. Rights relate to the universals, the generalizations, which are a process of abstraction, integration, and so forth. Thus the term “natural” is inapposite."
"I don’t buy this. The same can be said of all concepts—indeed, “[e]very word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.” If I say that “calcium is naturally a component of human bone,” nobody would object—and yet “human bone” does not exist in nature. Only particular bones do. Yet “human bone” does have a nature: those qualities or characteristics that define the concept itself. And those qualities or characteristics are certainly not conventional or ipse dixit assertions: they’re real, they’re natural. If I say “lungs are of such a nature that they will not work in a vaccuum,” I am making a claim about the kind of things that lungs are—regardless of what people think or say about them—and about how they work or don’t work. I believe Rand’s theory of rights makes the same kind of claim about human beings. Man needs rights (in a social context) because of the kind of being that he is. That’s an etiological account of rights reached by a process of abstract reasoning, but it’s no less naturalistic for that."
Read the whole thing.
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The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
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