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sjw

Why Rand has no theory of Rights

263 posts in this topic

Selene asked me to create a thread regarding why I say Rand has no theory of rights.

Any theory must, as a bare starting point, identify its units, whether entity, action, or attribute. It must identify their essential nature. And it must comprehensively identify their range, the fundamental types of units in its domain. It thereby sets the stage for extension and application, by others, to the full set of units specified by the theory.

Rand's attempt: "A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)"

According to Rand, the genus of "right" is "moral principle." According to her this makes a "right" an attribute of man, specifically, a kind of principle, which is an attribute of man's mind, one that we put there. So what she is saying here is that rights exist -- only in our heads. This is off to a bad start for Rand's theory. Further, what do principles do? They identify fundamental truths about something else. What is the something else? That would seem to be the important place to find the true genus. But Rand doesn't bother looking there.

Further, where does she ever identify the range? The best she does is say that right to life is the fundamental right and others flow from it. What others? Where is the solid theoretical foundation to build on? Nowhere. She does mention a grab-bag of rights in various places, but nowhere does she identify the range and scope.

Rand has no theory. Which is part of why I wrote "For Individual Rights": http://www.amazon.com/Individual-Rights-Treatise-Human-Relations/dp/0984587004/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278694389&sr=8-1 .

Shayne

Edit: I created unnecessary confusion in this thread by not emphasizing the difference between a formal theory and as an informal theory. I hold that that informal theories are a dime a dozen, Rand had no formal theory she had an informal theory, and that her informal theory is rich with important and deep insights. We can appreciate these insights in spite of her lack of systematic approach, but we must also recognize the value of a systematic approach.

Edited by sjw
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Here is a much more comprehensive explanation of Objectivism’s approach to individual rights than the rather sketchy one which you provided.

The Objectivist Validation of Individual Rights

What I wrote above has the virtue of actually citing Ayn Rand. Since my criticism is aimed at Ayn Rand and not at her interpreters, I think citations of her are what is relevant to this thread.

Shayne

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Rights are a human invention and they exist in our heads, in philosophy and in law. They are reflective of human nature and justified by human nature. Unlike human nature rights are not metaphysical. This is true of any theory: the theory is epistemological and is verified by referencing reality.

Rights are essentially egalitarian and may in part derive from the individualistic basis of Christianity in which all are equal before God. Both the king and the peasant bow down. The idea is instead of going to war and fighting all the time--bopping each other on the head--people work, produce and trade; they are free--free to use their minds to create values.

A theory of rights need not be complete, but it needs to be started. It was started long before Rand in England and imperfectly forced on the government over centuries. We can posit it peaked with the American Declaration of Independence, Revolution and the Bill of Rights and that government has been pushing back ever since. Fighting for rights means wrestling with the government--always.

--Brant

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This is going to be a rather short thread if we merely stick to Rand. She didn't write much about rights. If she had been more rights' oriented, I don't think she'd have blown off the libertarians so much as specifically instructed them. Objectivism was her thing, not rights so much. This is where true individualism in her philosophy falls down--the all or nothingness of official Objectivism; the implicit demand people twist themselves into Objectivists.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede
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Brant, physics is also a "human invention." As far as we know, "mass" exists only as a concept in our heads. Without this theory (which exists only in our heads) being somehow tied to real existents, it is useless. This is the function of certain definitions within the theory -- to clearly point to the things in reality being referred to.

A theory of rights must be clearly tied to the reality of human action.

Shayne

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This is going to be a rather short thread if we merely stick to Rand. She didn't write much about rights. If she had been more rights' oriented, I don't think she'd have blown off the libertarians so much as specifically instructed them. Objectivism was her thing, not rights so much. This is where true individualism in her philosophy falls down--the all or nothingness of official Objectivism; the implicit demand people twist themselves into Objectivists.

--Brant

Rand supplied foundational motivations and concepts. Her fiction is a powerful motive force for individual rights. Her non-initiation of force idea is a pregnant one. She just didn't finish the job she started. Her main mistake was to block the path of those who might by enabling cultism.

Shayne

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What should also be mentioned here is Rand's failures to identify a form of government actually based in individual rights (this is somewhat the original context of the question asked by Selene). George H. Smith identifies the issues here:

http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/rational-anarchism.html

What is the Objectivist answer to this? Blank-out.

Shayne

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Brant,

Is a thought any less real because it is a thought? What you seem to be saying is that because thoughts are non-tangible they are unreal. Concepts all concepts are human inventions, the concept of gravity is a human invention. The major problem that i find with your theory is that it leads to a Nietzschen understanding of life. Will to power.

let us ask the following questions.

Do men have different Rights? does A have Rights B does not have?

If A has different Rights then B why?

Regardless of where you believe Rights originate (god etc.) it is absurd to postulate different men have different Rights.

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Thoughts aren't unreal but they belong to a different category than the rock you kick down the street.

--Brant

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What should also be mentioned here is Rand's failures to identify a form of government actually based in individual rights (this is somewhat the original context of the question asked by Selene). George H. Smith identifies the issues here:

http://folk.uio.no/t...-anarchism.html

What is the Objectivist answer to this? Blank-out.

Shayne

Precisely. Ayn's venture into political theory was somewhat more complete than her venture into psychology.

Can we at least agree that however we are going to agree on a definition of "rights", that those "rights" shall [as used in law meaning must in all cases] apply to all human beings equally, at least at birth (at this point in the discussion)???

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Here is a much more comprehensive explanation of Objectivism’s approach to individual rights than the rather sketchy one which you provided.

The Objectivist Validation of Individual Rights

What I wrote above has the virtue of actually citing Ayn Rand. Since my criticism is aimed at Ayn Rand and not at her interpreters, I think citations of her are what is relevant to this thread.

Shayne

Since she has been dead for nearly 30 years, the only responses you are likely to get on this thread are those of her interpreters.

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Since she has been dead for nearly 30 years, the only responses you are likely to get on this thread are those of her interpreters.

Too bad she didn't write anything down. If she had then maybe somebody'd be able cite her.

Shayne

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Re: Brant - "This is going to be a short thread ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,"

The shorter the better! Where's a moderator when you need one.

Re: Shayne - "Anyone interested can buy my book,,,,,,,,,,"

Sure, I'll take one !! And tomorrow I'm going in for my "tap therapy".

(note: the above was not intended as belittling anyone who attempted a serious reply to the topic)

Mr. Shayne, you misrepresented Rand and Objectivism (eg: "Rand's failure to identify a form of government actually based on individual rights,,,,,,,"). Nonsense. Rand and others went to great pains to do just that.

If you don't agree with the basic (and not so basic) ideas of the Objectivist approach why are you HERE trying to teach us, or change our minds? Don't you think, or realize, that some of us here have this shit figured out pretty damn well? Are you only trying to prey on the weaker citizens of this site, or sell your wares? (like others I have already witnessed)

Why not try learning something yourself?

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Sure sign of a religious zealot: they start calling you a "liar" in some form or other and start attacking your motives as being sinister, when you introspectively have direct evidence that neither is true.

Rodney, why don't you address George H. Smith's arguments? Oh yeah, "blank-out."

Shayne

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Rights are a human invention and they exist in our heads, in philosophy and in law. They are reflective of human nature and justified by human nature. Unlike human nature rights are not metaphysical. This is true of any theory: the theory is epistemological and is verified by referencing reality.

To call rights an "invention" can be misleading. They are no more "invented" than are other abstract principles with a basis in human nature. It would be more accurate to call them a "discovery."

Nor is it correct to call rights an "epistemological" theory. You seem to believe that all theories are epistemological, but "epistemological" doesn't mean the same thing as "abstract." An epistemological theory is a theory about human knowledge, and this doesn't encompass rights theory. A rights theory is "metaphysical" insofar as it claims to be based on facts about human nature and social interaction.

Rights are essentially egalitarian and may in part derive from the individualistic basis of Christianity in which all are equal before God.

It was ancient Stoicism (and, later, Epicureanism), not Christianity per se, that paved the way for rights theory. It was because Christianity incorporated a good deal of Stoic thinking that it exhibited individualistic strains from time to time. For many centuries, however, these strains were overpowered by the appeal to special revelation, especially the Bible. To say that God created every person equal didn't count for much when some Christians (e.g., the pope) claimed the exclusive right to impose God's will, as revealed in the Bible.

Moreover, for many centuries the ideal of equality in Christianity pertained only to "prelapsarian" man, i.e., to human nature before Adam's lapse, or fall, into sin. A strange blend of the Garden of Eden account in Genesis and the Stoic Seneca's account of a state of nature, prelapsarian man was said to have lived in perfect harmony without the need for government, private property, or slavery. According to Augustine and virtually every other Church Father, these institutions, though not part of God's original creation, were later decreed by God as a punishment and remedy for sin. These institutions were seen as a kind of secondary natural law that was needed to deal with man's inherently sinful nature.

A lot had to happen in regard to the notion of original sin in order for the individualistic strains in Christianity to exert much influence, and this took many, many centuries. Thomas Aquinas, though no libertarian, played a significant role here.

Ghs

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This is going to be a rather short thread if we merely stick to Rand. She didn't write much about rights. If she had been more rights' oriented, I don't think she'd have blown off the libertarians so much as specifically instructed them. Objectivism was her thing, not rights so much. This is where true individualism in her philosophy falls down--the all or nothingness of official Objectivism; the implicit demand people twist themselves into Objectivists.

--Brant

Rand actually had quite a bit to say about rights, and I think most of what she wrote was spot on. Her failing, if we may call it that, is that she tended to attribute too much originality to her approach. I doubt if Rand ever read much if anything by previous rights theorists, and, in an odd way, this may have been a good thing. By working from a clean slate, she avoided getting bogged down in some of the technical disputes that have fascinated modern philosophers, but which have served to confuse key issues more than to clarify them.

I don't understand your point about where Rand's individualism "falls down." Her theory of rights per se is impeccably individualistic. If she failed to apply her own theory consistently from time to time, she was in the company of many great political philosophers, such as John Locke and Herbert Spencer.

Ghs

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Brant: "Consider GHS and contrast with Rodney"

Absolutely !!! I got no problem with that. I think everything I said in my reply was true. I treated shayne with respect. Shayne said that he had written a book! I treated Shayne as an intelligent being who knew what he was doing.

Rodney

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I don't understand your point about where Rand's individualism "falls down." Her theory of rights per se is impeccably individualistic. If she failed to apply her own theory consistently from time to time, she was in the company of many great political philosophers, such as John Locke and Herbert Spencer.

I'm referring to Objectivism culturally and psychologically, not so much philosophically.

--Brant

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I don't understand your point about where Rand's individualism "falls down." Her theory of rights per se is impeccably individualistic.

- Her theory of government usurps consent.

- Her "theory" of IP (really she offers no principled reasoning whatsoever here) usurps creations of a second inventor.

- Her notion of rights is that they "subordinate society to moral law" -- the technical interpretation of this isn't individualistic at all. Although I would admit that she didn't mean what she said, I wonder if we shouldn't take her literally anyway, since that is how she told us to interpret other philosophers.

- Her notion of the ideal social system, capitalism, fails to recognize the individual right to form alternative social systems (as in for example the Amish, but we could multiply examples without limit)

So when you say "impeccably," I must infer that you are circumscribing her ideas such that it doesn't include the above, but I do not know upon what principle you do the circumscribing.

Shayne

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I don't understand your point about where Rand's individualism "falls down." Her theory of rights per se is impeccably individualistic. If she failed to apply her own theory consistently from time to time, she was in the company of many great political philosophers, such as John Locke and Herbert Spencer.

I'm referring to Objectivism culturally and psychologically, not so much philosophically.

--Brant

Okay.

Ghs

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Gentleman:

A right is defined for this argument as_______________________________.

Could each of you just humor me and fill in the blank.

Adam

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Brant: "Consider GHS and contrast with Rodney"

Absolutely !!! I got no problem with that. I think everything I said in my reply was true. I treated shayne with respect. Shayne said that he had written a book! I treated Shayne as an intelligent being who knew what he was doing.

I hope you're a young man.

--Brant

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