Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do We Actually Have Rights?


Professor Dr. Thomas Rustici started out with the famous quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."  Then outlines the concepts of society and state.  Society is a group of individuals that interact with one another however loosely.  The state is one of many institutions within society, others being religion (s), family.  The state is a unique institution within society because it claims moral authority to use police power.

Then he states the concepts of positive and negative liberty.  Negative liberty is based on the principle of natural law that we have a right to our body and mind.  John Locke would argue that this is a God given right, and Ayn Rand would argue this is a right that we have by reason.  Using logic, one could argue that we rightly own ourselves because of the Law of Identity.  If we can identify ourselves as being an identity, then by deduction we may also identify that no other identity controls our thoughts and actions but ourselves and that we cannot control others thoughts and actions (except by force, which is an additional, qualifier).  Thus we own ourselves and have rights based on that.  All other natural rights are derivations of that principle right.

Positive liberty is the idea that one has or is entitled to the means to pursue one's interests.  Society should facilitate individuals to reach their own potential of self-sufficiency or even self-actualization.  Many economists, philosophers, and politicians use this concept as the basis for welfare and other functions of government.


The concept of natural law and natural rights is still a confusing one for me.  If we are to believe Locke that these rights are God given, then they are only subject to God's benevolence which means that they are not rights at all.  Thomas of Aquino taught that natural laws are God given and that they must be discovered by man.  Are there other natural laws that we simply haven't discovered yet, or rather that God has not revealed?  If these laws exist, not by God but by reason, then they may be largely irrelevant if individuals and governments ignore or abuse them.  Can a law even truly exist if there is no method of enforcing it?  If it can then we still have our natural law (s) even if they are at times irrelevant.  If it can't, then aren't our "natural" rights beholdent to the stability and whims of government.  If that is true then the concept of natural law is back into question.

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