Monday, October 30, 2006

Rights: What? When? Where? Who? Why?

What are rights?

According to definition 18, "a just claim or title, whether legal, prescriptive, or moral"

When do we have rights?

Always. Because rights are something one a just claim to, rights must be absolute and therefore must be constant irrelevant of time. If not, one's sense of justice is arbitrary. Rights such as the "right to healthcare" are not rights because if medical science does not exist, the right does not exist either. In all the time before healthcare and medicine existed, a "right to healthcare didn't either.

Where do rights come from?

Fundamental to rational morality is the concept of Self-Ownership, the idea that you own yourself. If you own yourself, that means you have exclusive control over your body. This was covered in the previous post entitled "Morality".

If you own your body, which you do, then you have a just claim to it. Anyone attempting to take control of your body is taking your exclusive control over it is violating your right, your "just claim" to your own body.

Who has rights?

Aknowledging that rights come from self-ownership, self-ownership is clearly how we determine whether someone has rights.

Self-ownership is a two-pronged concept.

1. Self, a recognition of one
2. Ownership, a recognition of others

A being which has no concept of self, nor any concept of ownership extending beyond momentary possession, does not have rights.

How do we test for these things? First, we offer the being a representation of itself. In optically capable creatures, this would most easily be done by providing a mirror. If the creature treats it's representation as a totally seperate animal, then it is not self-aware, thus having no concept of self, and not qualifying for self-ownership. All creatures require sustaining energy, so a good way to test for concept of ownership is via offering a number of such creatures (which are allowed to move and communicate between themselves freely) individual sources of such energy. For example, food. Each creature would have one source of food. Only enough food for one creature would be provided in each, and would be provided in fluctuating intervals. Then, by cutting off the supply of food to a number of such creatures, if the creatures who have been cutoff do not immediately resort to taking from the food sources of others, they can be said to understand the concept of ownership.

So who specifically does and does not have rights?

A normal adult human has rights because it has both self-awareness and understanding and respect of ownership.

A dolphin could have rights if it demonstrated self-awareness and understanding and respect of ownership. (To my knowledge dolphins have demonstrated these traits, and thus, they have rights.)

A fetus does not have rights because it has no self-awareness nor understanding of ownership.

A criminal does not have rights because it has concept of self, and understands ownership, but does not respect ownership.

A cockroach does not have rights because while it is unclear whether or not it has concept of self, it does not have concept of ownership.

A bacterium does not have rights because it has neither self-awareness nor ownership.

A class of people does not have rights because it has no physical manifestation, thus cannot possibly think. Individuals of a certain class do have rights provided they are self-aware and understand and respect ownership.

Why do we have rights?

Rights are the founding basis of peaceful, cooperative interaction. Rights are the foundation of civilization and society. Cooperation is mutual benefit and mutual benefit is good for everyone. Rights are a way to maximize welfare and overall happiness. And we rational beings with rights would never want it any other way.


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