Tom Palven wrote:
This yields a ‘how’ question without the contentious non-consequence issue, and I interpret it in the sense that your ‘how’ is not in fact an empirical/historical/political question about processes, incidents and events susceptible to descriptive and narrative exposition, but rather (from my perspective at least) a metaphysical question about grounding ‘rights’ naturalistically in something other than the brute facts of the empirically demonstrable, which is what much contemporary ethical debate is all about.Davoz,
You mention, above, the quest to logically ground human "rights". I don't think that this will be possible. Thomas Aquinas made a case for the divine rights of kings and popes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings
It is probably an elaborate case, but elaborate bullshit is still bullshit. Few people outside Saudit Arabia, or some other Mid-Eastern countries, perhaps, continue to give the concept any credence, and an attempt to extend this bogus concept over a wider area so that the "commoner" has "rights" is equally bogus. The problem is that any of these so-called rights, to "a living wage", "adequate health care", "intellectual property" or whatever, is predicated upon the nonexistient and illogical "right" of some people to coerce others. Not only did segregationists, slave-owners, or members ofthe Third Reich lack this right, it has not been shown, IMHO, how anyone
acquires this right.
Tom, thanks for continuing to engage in discussion.
It’s rather hard to see how the defeasibility of an argument for the divine right of kings, based in any case on a specific supernatural metaphysics, permits the inference that it will be impossible to make a persuasive case for grounding some contemporary action-guiding principles though a naturalistic metaphysics. After all, many human projects that would have been seen as impossible or unimaginable in the 13th century have been realised during the past 700 years.
Where you refer to ‘the quest to logically ground human “rights” ...' and to ‘how anyone
acquires this ... nonexistent and illogical “right” ... to coerce others’, and where I refer to ‘a metaphysical question about grounding ‘rights’ naturalistically in something other than the brute facts of the empirically demonstrable’, what is involved, on my construal, is a dual aspect of rights that could be characterised as follows.Empirical
(R-Emp): Rights, whether to coerce or to be exempt from coercion (at random: to levy taxes, to assemble with others, to emprison, to practice a religion, to a fair wage, to self-defence, to impose a traffic fine), are variously asserted, denied, assented to, argued for, introduced, withdrawn, modified,
and so on. Under this aspect, the existence of rights is a matter of observation, fact and public discourse.Metaphysical
(R-Met): The web of individual logical/cognitive operations which underpins intersubjective cooperation in maintaining, justifying or enabling rights to have the mode of empirical existence (R-Emp) that they do. To say that this web is metaphysical is to say that it is explanatorily engaged in excess of the empirical realities to which it points. It can be seen to apply to rights in a similar way in which it applies to money: under an empirical aspect (equivalently, M-Emp), I use a $50 banknote in a transaction; under a metaphysical aspect (M-Met), money is referable to a set of logical/cognitive operations in the way just described without which the (M-Emp) transaction would have no practical significance.
In saying that rights are ‘nonexistent’ one clearly cannot mean rights under the (R-Emp) aspect without denying social facts and observable states of affairs, since rights (R-Emp) do
have an empirical mode of existence and are appealed to all the time under this aspect in an action-guiding way. But, as I understand it, you are in fact using ‘nonexistent’ as a way of saying that you do not believe particular arguments for rights (R-Emp), underpinned by (R-Met), can be logically justified. However, in saying that some ethical claim is not logically justified you are saying, equivalently, that it has no right
to be considered justified, and thus you are obliged to use a language or a concept of rights in order to make this assertion. Moreover, one cannot, as far as I can see, get round this simply by claiming that the judgement itself is a value-neutral
logical judgement about a value-laden
object (rights), because this begs the question whether it's possible to make value-neutral logical judgments on ethical issues, that is, without ethical assumptions about rightness and wrongness entering into the judgment. (The fact/value distinction is much debated but unresolved, and my assumption here is that the possibility of making value-neutral logical assertions about something like rights is very limited.
Davoz, You're certainly welcome. I'm enjoying this discussion.
1. Yes, I think the defeasibility of the divine rights of kings may be a bit of a strawman, but I see a relationship between the belief in the divine rights of kings and the belief in "certain unalienable rights" "endowed by their Creator" mentioned in the US Declaration of Independence.
Old Testament Judeo-Christi-Islamic ethics in combination with utlilitarian ethics, with the state as a father figure, have arguably stood the ancient Golden Rule on its head wherin homosexual acts are now considered to be unethical by many, but killing innocent people with drone-fired rockets is not unethical. I don't think that I am distorting the facts or being merely inflamatory to say that it was this same combination of ethcs that the National Socialist Workers (NAZI) Party argued for under the Third Reich.
Note Hitler's appeal to altruism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf6_zKLbykQ
(Okay, what's another straw man between friends?)
2. Yes, what you refer to as Empirical Rights (or legal rights) such as "the right to adequate health care" or "the right to bear arms" can exist as legal privileges (entitlements) until repealed or amended.
3. I agree with mcfate
that you presented a good analogy between metaphysical rights and state-issued banknotes which are not gold-backed and are accepted only on the "full faith and credit" of Zimbabwe or the US government.
You say, Davoz,
that "the possibility of making value-neutral logical assertions about something like rights is very limited," but I think that you could make the same statement about the exisitence of God (No?). If inherent human rights exist, or if God exists, let's see the evidence. And, as mentioned before, if inherent or God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness exist, what good did they do minorities under the Third Reich?
4. I'm not sure that the Golden Rule (esp. in platinum form) is not naturalistic in that it seems to conform to basic human nature the world over, one example being don't lie to people because they don't like to be lied to, or to lie, as evidenced by stress indicators in polygraph tests.
The statements above have the commonality of extreme skepticism I have about the acquistion of ethical knowledge since the time of Confucius' Golden Rule of about 500 BC, including Judeo-Christi-Islamic "knowledge", the philosophical "knowledge" of Aquinas, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Rawls, et al (including the discoveries of "rights" and "social contracts"), and the economic "knowledge" of Keynes, Gaibraith, Krugman et al predicated upon coercive states. True scientific knowledge, on the other hand, has, of course, exploded.