Atheism and natural rights.

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  • #26
Ivan Seeking
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How can an abstraction in this sense be the result of anything but a belief system?
 
  • #27
Moonbear
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How can an abstraction in this sense be the result of anything but a belief system?
Which would suggest they are not a natural right at all, but a religious belief. It would be nice if the OP defined what she meant by a natural right so we could all be sure we're talking about the same thing.
 
  • #28
Natural rights are obviously social constructs. They are just deemed as so fundamental and imperative that they are "natural". That nobody can argue with how self evident they are. Not that they come from nature.

There has to be some default rights. And again, nothing to do with religion. They are based on things like political and economic theory.

"According to Locke there are three natural rights:

* Life- everyone is entitled to live once they are created.
* Liberty- everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right.
* Estate- everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights.

A communist and a capitalist would obviously disagree on what a natural right is but they both believe in them for the most part.
 
  • #29
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Sorry if I was too vague in my first post.

"According to Locke there are three natural rights:

* Life- everyone is entitled to live once they are created.
* Liberty- everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn't conflict with the first right.
* Estate- everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn't conflict with the first two rights.
Indeed, John Locke's Second Treatise emphasizes natural rights and he greatly influenced the American founding fathers, who sometimes used the term "inalienable rights" to refer to the same concept.

Some definitions:
"Natural law or the law of nature is law whose content derives naturally from human nature ..., and therefore has universal validity." (from newworldencyclopedia.org)
"Naturalists believe that natural law principles are an inherent part of nature and exist regardless of whether government recognizes or enforces them." (from law.jrank.org)

Natural law can be based on the divine, depending on how you interpret it. Hence, the reason I mentioned god/religion and absolute morality in my first post. It is an undeniably abstract idea, but it does not require a deity.

In contrast, positive law is the concept that all human rights are created by human beings. The fact that a person has certain rights upon birth (whatever they may be) is decided by the community. Positive law is "Those laws that have been duly enacted by a properly instituted and popularly recognized branch of government." (from thefreedictionary.com)

In terms of natural law and positive law, think "objective" and "subjective" respectively, in the sense that natural law is supposedly universal, but positive law can depend on the community and culture.

The reason I pose this question is because I am an atheist but I also think that these fundamental rights are universal, and that there is no explanation supporing the idea that a person has these rights. Why does a person have the right to live, and to live free from tyranny? Why does a person have the right to reap the benefits of their labor? I don't really think there are answers to these questions. I think that's just how it is, no matter who a person is, where they are, or even if their community thinks just the opposite.

Positive law is more rational in nature than natural law, which is why it is probably unusual for an atheist like myself to be able to identify with the idea of natural law more than positive law. Hence, my original question: how can an atheist justify the concept of natural rights?
 
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  • #30
Ah, you need something to appeal to. To back you up. How does one justify any rights though? (without god). That's why it is politics and philosophy. There is no real correct answer.

I think what you call natural law is also only local. I dont think all cultures would agree on what natural rights are. The idea itself is a very Western concept.
 
  • #31
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Yes, it is quite Western, and is especially popular among Libertarians/Conservatives. I expect that most people here would probably disagree with me and say that atheism is incompatable with natural rights, but I wanted to hear other people's input anyway.
 
  • #32
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How does God solve the problem of these 'natural rights'.

This is the problem of inserting God for everything that is difficult to explain.

Why do humans not kill each other. -Because God said not to.

Ok why did God say not to? -Because God says it's morally right to let others live.

Ok why does God think this way?

In the end it comes down to why is GOD justified in saying what natural rights are and humans can't have just made them that way because it's what comes natural to them anyways?

Does anyone get what I'm trying to say here? Just saying God said it was so doesn't answer the question AT ALL.
 
  • #33
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How does God solve the problem of these 'natural rights'.

This is the problem of inserting God for everything that is difficult to explain.

Why do humans not kill each other. -Because God said not to.

Ok why did God say not to? -Because God says it's morally right to let others live.

Ok why does God think this way?

In the end it comes down to why is GOD justified in saying what natural rights are and humans can't have just made them that way because it's what comes natural to them anyways?

Does anyone get what I'm trying to say here? Just saying God said it was so doesn't answer the question AT ALL.
I completely agree with you. That is why I am asking this question; because I don't look at a problem and think the answer is "god done it."

It's the same thing when some theists think that just because there are questions that we cannot answer, god must be the answer to that question. It's a fallacy.
 
  • #35
DaveC426913
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Without refuting or condoning the line of reasoning, I'll at least try to set you stright on some of the internal logic.

Please just pretend that each of my sentences is prefaced with 'The idea to this God thing is that...'

Ok why did God say not to? -Because God says it's morally right to let others live.
Because the is the creator, and thus gets to make that call.


Ok why does God think this way?

In the end it comes down to why is GOD justified in saying what natural rights are and humans can't have just made them that way because it's what comes natural to them anyways?
Since he is the creator of nature, he gets to make the laws too.


Don't forget that, while he laid these laws out, he gave us the will to abide my them or flout them as we see fit. It is yet to be seen what interest he has in the choice we make.
 
  • #36
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Without refuting or condoning the line of reasoning, I'll at least try to set you stright on some of the internal logic.

Please just pretend that each of my sentences is prefaced with 'The idea to this God thing is that...'


Because the is the creator, and thus gets to make that call.



Since he is the creator of nature, he gets to make the laws too.


Don't forget that, while he laid these laws out, he gave us the will to abide my them or flout them as we see fit. It is yet to be seen what interest he has in the choice we make.
That's not the point of my post.

The point of my post is why can't it just be that WE made the call. If we can justify these natural laws without invoking God then why is it necessary to invoke God?
 
  • #37
DaveC426913
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That's not the point of my post.

The point of my post is why can't it just be that WE made the call.
Well, it can be. if you're an atheist. The point I was making is that trying to out-logic God's motives doesn't cause him to disappear in a puff of logic.

(Not that I'm claiming that's what you were trying to do.)
 
  • #38
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Well, it can be. if you're an atheist. The point I was making is that trying to out-logic God's motives doesn't cause him to disappear in a puff of logic.

(Not that I'm claiming that's what you were trying to do.)
As well, your claim that God can do anything he was goes against the fundamental belief of God that would create such a moral code.

All religions that I know (that have moral codes based on God) believe that God gave these rights based on what is right not just because he randomly felt that he should do it just because he can do whatever. So God couldn't have made it any other way (right and wrong apparently in these beliefs surpass God)

++ Anyways that's beside the point my posts intention was to show that atheist can in fact believe in natural rights and in this post here I noticed that you agree with that. So the OPs question has been answered problem solved! :smile:
 
  • #39
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"he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational."

What a load of horse manure. Nature forbids nothing of the kind.

In fact nature is ruled by chaos, and before you can even decide what is 'rational', within that chaos, you have to have an idea of the kind of goal you wish to achieve. And the goal will likely be arbitrary. Survival in nature is about being adaptable to change... and lucky with regards to random events.

If you want to live fast and die young, then your idea of what natural rights are will reflect that. If you want security in your old age... your idea of natural rights will be very different.

If you want to eat meat, or have an abortion, your idea of what the natural 'right to life' means will be very distinct from those who are pro-life vegans.

While the goals you have will likely fit within a distribution based on human needs. Political and ethical views, even amongst people of the same religion, vary quite a bit. Put two atheists in a room and you'll have 3 opinions on any one topic.

Being an atheist doesn't really address any of these issues, it simply eliminates the supernatural from your decision making. There is still a wide range of human behaviors within that. Even assuming one takes an unemotional, completely pragmatic and rational stategy towards life (not really the way most people would choose to live), the kind of life you 'want', and the kind of life you are willing to put up with, will really be the determining factor. Human beings are mostly not that rational. And nature loves to knock over the rational sandcastles people build.

The 'natural' part of natural rights is mainly just rhetoric, as most people quite naturally don't actually have them.
 
  • #40
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One orthodox friend of mine considers morality to be the following of God's commands. One obeys God in order to avoid the cycle of incarnation and to rise into Heaven. In Heaven life is blessed with bliss that naturally derives from having completed God's wishes and reaping the rewards that he bestows.

In my opinion, he follows his moral path in order to avoid suffering and to achieve happiness. At core, the motivation for morality is reward and punishment.

I also think that he believes that there is an intrinsic ability for people to feel happiness when they obey God and to suffer when they reject him. This implies a theory of human nature.
 
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  • #41
All religions that I know (that have moral codes based on God) believe that God gave these rights based on what is right not just because he randomly felt that he should do it just because he can do whatever.
Ah, a classic misunderstanding. As far as the Christian God goes, God created the law and so on because it is based on his character. It is in his character not to steal and so on, so he instilled that into us. I guess we can look at it like a fish in a bowl, the fish doesn't know the world outside the bowl (or so we can infer), so we can't explain everything about God and his character. So I guess the question begs. What about free will? Well...that's an easy one. In order for free will to exist, evil MUST exist. So you can see why men generally do bad things. The law was created, including morality and ethics because we were created in God's image, to basically be like him I guess.

The point of my post is why can't it just be that WE made the call. If we can justify these natural laws without invoking God then why is it necessary to invoke God?
Well I personally hate naturalism. Just because you can use your senses to explain the world doesn't mean that God didn't make it. Lets refer to 1000 years ago. Lightning was mysterious. People didn't know what it was so they probably said "God did it"...well we finally figured out how lightning was made using a natural process (i dunno...friction?)...but that still doesn't rule out God. You see....if you believe in God...then you'd know he gave you your 5 senses so that you can basically explore/discover the world he made, the one you are part of. So in other words...God created EVERYTHING, including the natural laws. He gave you the ability to recognize these and to create your own "version of reality" I guess.
 
  • #42
DaveC426913
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The point of my post is why can't it just be that WE made the call. If we can justify these natural laws without invoking God then why is it necessary to invoke God?
Well ,there may be a practical problem in getting a consensus of six billion voters, many of whom are yet to be born, and many of whom are dying.
 
  • #43
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You are talking about a white man's caricature of "primitive savage" people that arose in early colonial times - a justification for oppressive measures.
"Liberty is a wonderful thing, as long as it doesn't become the liberty of another being to enter in your home, kill your child, rape your wife and make you watch all this."
 
  • #44
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In Medieval and Renaissance philosophy the problem of morality derived from the concept of Nature. Each of God's creations follows its own Nature. Except for man who has been given free choice, all other creatures follow their Nature without choice.For this reason they are "innocent" and can not be immoral or moral. The star flickers in the firmament without choice. The sunflower turns towards the Sun, the robin feeds worms to its chicks without choice.

Man on he other hand has been given a unique ability, free choice and it therefore is no longer clear what his Nature is. Renaissance philosophers believed that man could choose his Nature. He could live like a beast or an angel or even strive to be like God. For them morality came from which choice was made. One is enlightened and free if one chooses to emulate God, ignorant and a prisoner of habit and reflex if one chooses to live like a beast.

For me this way of thinking is right. The virtue of my life has always come down to how I make choices and which choices enhance my freedom and reduce my routine behavior. I have noticed with my children that helping them to have confidence in their own choices has helped them not only to live but has given them an inner sense of self worth.

A true Atheist from this point of view would be someone who felt that there is no intrinsic human capacity for free choice. Examples of Atheistic theories might be John Locke's tabula rasa, Freud's theory that our unconscious determines our behavior and Marx's materialistic imperative. Interestingly, it has been argued that the horrors of the 20'th century come from these modern day denials of human freedom and thereby of moral responsibility. Without freedom morality is impossible, so the argument goes. Also the belief in a God that determines every event and does not allow freedom is essentially the same Atheistic thinking. I suspect that for the Renaissance man, this idea would deny God of his ultimate virtue.

I really think that the question of morality is the same as the question of human freedom.
Questions of right and wrong, good and bad, all start with this.

Natural rights seems to be a different idea. Natural rights are in this line of thinking the right to persue one's nature. In the case of man, this is the right to be free but in the case of an alligator it may be the right to inhabit a swamp. Much of environmentalism can be justified in this way and environmentalism really extends this idea of rights to the whole planet.

I believe that many people feel that they are moral and good axiomatically just like my orthodox friend. While I agree with such dicta as discrimination is bad, war is bad, sending your children to college is good, saving the environment is good, to me these attitudes tend to be arbitrary and fundamentally unjustified.
 
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  • #45
BobG
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"Liberty is a wonderful thing, as long as it doesn't become the liberty of another being to enter in your home, kill your child, rape your wife and make you watch all this."
I guess it depends on how you interpret that phrase.

Does a person have a right to enter your home, kill your child and rape your wife without the fear that you'll shoot him? No, of course not. You have a right to prevent someone from entering your home, killing your child, and raping your wife.

Should it be possible for a person to enter your home, kill your child, and rape your wife? Yes, it should. For one thing, thinking you could make it impossible is unrealistic - you can just reduce the risk. Secondly, liberty is worth it.

Obviously, the idea that the quality of life difference between a riskier liberty and a safer lack of liberty isn't a unanimous opinion. In fact, people in a country become very willing to give up more and more liberty as the chances of dying violently increase.

For a Tsutsi in Rwanda, or for a Jew in Germany during and immediately prior to WWII, trading liberty for safety could be seen as a very good trade. For an American, where 1 out of every 100,000 is killed by airplanes flying into buildings, the trade off isn't quite so clear cut.

With a risk twice as great as being struck by asteroid, many Americans would give willingly give up liberty if the risk of dying in a terrorist attack would be reduced to what? Half as great as being struck by asteroid, a fourth as great? The questions about how much the risk has been or will be reduced have never really been answered. There was just the promise that actions that seemed somewhat unconstitutional would reduce the threat of terrorist attack - by some undefined amount.

With a risk of 100,000 to 1 for each terrorist attack, many Americans would also be unwilling to give up liberty even if there were a terrorist attack every year. At that rate, the chances of dying in a terrorist attack would be about 1300 to 1 - still 15 times less likely than dying in a car crash. Many Americans would find it absurd to give up liberty for such a small risk.

In fact, for a short period of time (less than 5 years), America could probably handle a WTC attack once a month before I would even consider reducing liberty to combat the threat. That would be about equal to the rate that Americans died in WWII. It would be less than civilian casualty rate of Great Britain in WWII, mostly due to German bombing (about 1 of every 713 British civilians died because of the war), and that casualty rate just strengthened British resolve.

I guess the idea of liberty and risk need to be quantified, since there are situations where DanP's comments would be very true - I'm just not sure there are very many.
 
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  • #46
"Men's freedoms can conflict, and when they do, one man's freedom must be limited to preserve another's--as a Supreme Court Justice once put it, "My freedom to move my fist must be limited by the proximity of your chin."

-Friedman
 
  • #47
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I guess it depends on how you interpret that phrase.

Does a person have a right to enter your home, kill your child and rape your wife without the fear that you'll shoot him? No, of course not. You have a right to prevent someone from entering your home, killing your child, and raping your wife.

Should it be possible for a person to enter your home, kill your child, and rape your wife? Yes, it should. For one thing, thinking you could make it impossible is unrealistic - you can just reduce the risk. Secondly, liberty is worth it.
I agree.

I am adherent to the "social contract" theory of the sate. Sadly, I do not believe that having humans bound only by their conscience is a realistic social model. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future.

In the "social contract" theory, humans renounce a part of their natural liberties and transfer them to the state. By doing this, they gain a great deal socially and politically.

IMO, a clear example of this is law enforcement. Should one wrongs you, and kill one of your beloved ones, should you have the liberty to take law enforcement in your hand, hunt him till the end of the earth and kill him and take his scalp afterward to display it ? (lets assume for the theory case that you wasn't home to shoot the bastard and you cant invoke any doctrine like self defense)

While I do consider this my natural right, this is something which is illegal in any democracy I know about. This is an example of natural right which we humans renounced and transferred to the state. The state will enforce law. It is illegal for you to do so. We (as in human collective) believe its for the best. Yet this is one lost liberty.

I guess the idea of liberty and risk need to be quantified,
I am also a strong supporter of the human right to bear arms. I find possessing this right as natural as the fact day follows night. Yet it seems that not everybody agrees with me. It seems that serious percentages of population and their representatives are against this fundamental right, and believe that banning guns would make for a better world. Are they right ? I really don't know. I know that I consider the right to bear arms fundamental. They don't.

What is extremely delicate is to find the right balance between the rights and liberties you transfer to the sate and the rights and liberties you retain so the society progress as unhindered as possible. I guess this is where the gist of the problem resides. And probably we will never be able to make everybody happy.
 
  • #48
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I agree.
IMO, a clear example of this is law enforcement. Should one wrongs you, and kill one of your beloved ones, should you have the liberty to take law enforcement in your hand, hunt him till the end of the earth and kill him and take his scalp afterward to display it ? (lets assume for the theory case that you wasn't home to shoot the bastard and you cant invoke any doctrine like self defense)

While I do consider this my natural right, this is something which is illegal in any democracy I know about. This is an example of natural right which we humans renounced and transferred to the state. The state will enforce law. It is illegal for you to do so. We (as in human collective) believe its for the best. Yet this is one lost liberty.
Indeed, and there's a big difference between enforcing law yourself and having a third party (government) do it for you. Just the other day I was thinking about how if someone hurt a loved one, I would absolutely want them dead. However, I do not support the death penalty because I'm not comfortable with the state having that power.
 
  • #49
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what about the issue of economic freedom? Many view this as the definition of liberty. Yet should speculators be allowed to create bubbles whose collapse triggers a depression and causes suffering for others?
 
  • #50
BobG
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I haven't done more than just skim the replies so far, because just one question comes to mind...if something is truly a "natural" right, shouldn't it be fully independent of any religious beliefs? Or, for that matter, of any other type of beliefs either? Perhaps this is a good test of whether something is a natural or universal right, if it persists in the absence of any special belief system.
That doesn't mean a natural right couldn't exist in some special belief system. Somehow, there's some dividing line in today's society where religion and science have to be completely separate and distinct from each other. If there were any overlap, both might be too offended to exist any more.

The earliest science we had generally was religion, where any "good ideas" that improved the lives of the group could be incorporated into the group's religious beliefs. In fact, the fact that it resulted in good results was the primary evidence that God(s) considered the act to be good. God(s) reward humans for doing good things and punish them for doing bad things.

The only difference is improvement in the scientific method. Scientific beliefs should be based on objective evidence of a sufficient sample size that the results are actually reliable, etc. Too many old wives tales get incorporated into religion without adequate support and followers can wind up performing pointless rituals, or worse yet, follow rituals that actually have an adverse effect in an environment different from the one the ritual was invented in.

Ironically, the things most commonly referred to as natural rights are those things that might not improve the overall good of the group. Being forced into labor for group would surely mean more things of common good were created, right? Allowing members of the group a choice about what they do with their own time improves each member's quality of life, but at the cost that the members produce less products for the group.

So, perhaps natural rights are things that require some sort of belief system, whether religious or other, in order to exist since they seem to draw the boundary between an individual's duty to society and his rights to his own pleasure.
 

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