Re: sentient rights (was RE: Battleground God)

From: Richard Steven Hack (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2002 - 21:45:49 MST

At 01:59 PM 2/27/02 -0800, you wrote:

>Richard Steven Hack wrote:
>>At 05:49 PM 2/24/02 -0800, you wrote:
>>>Richard Steven Hack wrote:
>>>>I have yet to see someone explain to me how the human need to breathe,
>>>>eat, sleep, and excrete and reproduce translates into a "right" which
>>>>is somehow a physical law. This is nothing but hand-waving.
>>>Since those things are not what distinquishes humans from other animals
>>>they are clearly not a sufficient place to look for a nature based
>>>justification of what humans rights. Reducing the argument to such
>>>inanities is worse than hand-waving.
>>Ah, so we base the discussion on conceptual processing and imagination,
>>eh? And do we ignore the lack of same in the bulk of the species? Ayn
>It would be necessary to prove the existence of significant conceptual
>processing in other species before it could be considered relevant in
>determining that species rights.

Keeping in mind that the original discussion was whether animals had
rights, clearly you seem to have come down on the negative in that regard,
assuming you mean by the above that only humans probably have such
characteristics. I would agree with that since I don't believe animals
have rights any more than humans do and in any event animals do not have
(at least the same degree of) conceptual processing that humans do.

>>Rand's own irrationality was amply analyzed by Nathaniel Branden in an
>>article he wrote. I do not reduce the argument to those "inanities" -
>Are we to assume his analysis is bug and bias free and utterly
>correct? Besides my argument does not hinge on Ayn Rand or her level of
>freedom from irrationality. You assume too much.

Assume what you wish. I thought his analysis was fairly good. What I was
referring to was
the assumption on your part and on most libs part that conceptual
processing is the distinguishing characteristic of
humans. However, recent posts seem to refer to rights being rooted in
"human nature" which does indeed include those other qualities you refer
to as inanities. Since those qualities are prerequisite to human life (as
presently constituted) they obviously fall under the heading of
"rights"; if you are to argue for rights, those qualities must be included
as "rights" - i.e., if I have a right at all, it is a right to breathe,
and eat. It is you who seem to wish to limit the justification for rights
to conceptual processing; I don't believe everyone does. Do not assume
that every time I make a reference to someone's concepts of rights that I
am referring specifically to something you said. If I am, I will try to be
specific about that.

>>your attempt to simplify my argument to that level is incorrect. I still
>>have yet to hear anyone translate the human capacity for conceptual
>>processing or any other human need into a need for a "natural law".
>Who the heck is talking about "natural *law*". I am talking about natural
>*rights* deriving from the nature of the beings involved.

The argument for "natural rights" as I have heard it expressed is
supposedly rooted in "natural law" (which is also an ambiguous concept, I
suspect) - what else does it mean when one refers to "human nature" as the
basis for "natural rights" - are we to assume that you do not believe that
"human nature" is somehow "natural" or based on the physical universe? The
nature of all existents is based on "natural law" - or more correctly on
the organization (if any) of the physical universe as we presently
understand it (and possibly regardless of whether we understand it or
not). Any justification for "natural rights" must therefore be rooted in
this IF such justification can be found - else the justification is even
more mystical.

>>>>"Codified physical law" is hand-waving. There is the physical universe
>>>>which includes biology and evolution. There are human concepts of
>>>>same. The map is not the territory. A human concept is not a physical
>>>>law (in fact, "physical law" is a merely a human concept - and there
>>>>are scientists who are not so sure that there ARE "physical laws"
>>>>operative throughout the Universe).
>>>Are you claiming that human beings hae no specific nature and that their
>>>nature does not lead to certain conditions being more optimal for their
>>>well being, particularly concerning their interaction with other people
>>>and instutions of same? You have to claim this if you are going to
>>>utterly dismiss the argument.
>>> Physical laws are not the end and be all of what is real and
>>> important. They are the basis of reality but do not utterly contain
>>> everything in reality, if you see what I mean.
>>Obviously I am not claiming anything of the sort - do not put words in my
>>mouth. Of course humans have specific needs - what I am objecting to is
>>the unnecessary transformation of a need into a mystical concept of "right".
>It is not obvious to date. Why switch from specific nature to specific
>needs? They are not the same. It is you that is asserting that rights
>are a mystical concept. It is not a given for the discussion.

Nothing is a "given" for the discussion,. apparently, since you seem to
enjoy recasting my words into your particular framework and then striking
down the resulting "straw man". Switch from specific nature to specific
needs? What does that mean? And when I assert that rights are a mystical
concept, that is exactly what I mean to assert. And I could care less
whether you agree.

>>>I already answered that question. And the second one by implication. It
>>>is a principle of Objectivism that rights are objective, derivable from
>>>reality. If so there is no multiplication of concepts beyond
>>>need. What exactly would you base ethics on if not on some
>>>understanding of what is required for human beings to function
>>>optiomally together?
>>You have not answered the question except with more hand-waving. It may
>>be a principle of Objectivism, but they did not derive it logically
>>either except with hand-waving.
>Please clarify what would satisfy you as more than hand-waving in such a

You state that rights are objective derived from reality. Are you now
claiming that reality is not related to "natural law" - above you stated
that you were not talking about natural law, but about natural rights. Now
you talk about physical reality. Which is it? This is what I mean by
hand-waving - the willingness to switch verbal context with no apparent
rigor in order to score points without clarifying anything.

I want someone (and Phil Osborn's post comes much closer than yours does)
to explain how a "right" is conceptually and qualitatively more significant
than either a basic human need (including freedom if you wish) or the
practical result of an economic analysis that establishes that coercion is
non-productive and thus contra-survival. What more needs to be
established? Why invoke a concept that adds nothing to the discussion? Is
it merely short-hand? Short-hand tends to end up being ambiguous in this
sort of discussion and such concepts are easy to "hijack" and then load up
with a lot of "baggage" - as liberals do when the grab the concept of
"rights" and start about a "right to this" and a "right to that" and
suddenly it's "these rights must be provided by somebody other than the
recipient". All that starts with the mushy notion of "rights" in the first

>>I am amused that some people few the notion of ethics as a given
>>essential of the universe. If something does not fit their "ethics"
>The need for ethics grows out of the interaction of sentient beings like
>ourselves. I don't know what "given essential" means to you.

I am referring to the way some people relate everything to ethics. The
current discussion on whether technology has ethical implications is an
example which I may discuss later. The assumption is that unless a concept
can be fitted into their private ethics, it is somehow suspect. I think
such people are far more concerned with their perceived moral stances
vis-a-vis everyone else - in other words, they are engaging in "flight
response" as I discussed earlier. Their purpose is not to insure that
everything they do is ethical, but rather to establish themselves as "more
ethical" than everyone else.

In my opinion, the need for principles of action - which are not moral
absolutes but heuristics - does grow out our circumstances as social
entities. As I say below, if you wish to call these "ethics" to
distinguish from "other" principles, feel free. I see no need to do
so. There is only one real principle to consider and that is
non-coercion. Everything else is derivative. I need no complicated code
of ethics - I need only to remember not to coerce people without
overwhelming need.

>>they cannot comprehend why it exists. To be precise, there is in fact
>I have no idea what you are talking about.

No surprise there.

>>no need for ethics at all. What is needed is a set of principles by
>"In fact"? What facts are these?

See the above response.

>>which one can act in a social context and which provide the most
>>likelihood of satisfying one's survival needs. If you wish to call
>This is what ethics are, including how one arrives at and validates such
>>these principles "ethics", feel free. I call them principles, so as not
>>to expand concepts beyond need and in the bargain burden a concept with
>>mystical baggage.
>Principles include many different things including those principles which
>are part of ethics. Therefore the word "principles" is inadequate as it
>is not uniquely bound to this area of concern.

Principles on the other hand can be enumerated. Ethics is a term that can
be hijacked by anyone because it is rarely enumerated. People can say,
"This is ethical", "That is not ethical" and derive advantage without being
required to specify WHY based on actual economic analysis. Look at the
current argument over cloning and related bio-tech. Constant statements
that cloning is not "ethical". This is used to conceal ulterior
motivations. It is never stated clearly WHAT aspects of cloning are not
ethical and why - is it cloning humans before the technology is perfected
to reduce the incidence of abnormal births? Is it cloning humans for
"insufficient" reasons such as replacing a dead child? The term "ethical"
is used for carpet-bombing - not rational argument.

>>>This is a way of arriving at much the same thing. You seem to be
>>>quibbling more over semantics.
>>Not at all. One concept is based on mysticism ("rights"), one on
>>demonstrable economic analysis of the behavior of large groups of
>>people. One concept is based on "natural law" - a meaningless concept -
>>and one is based on practical results - productivity or non-productivity
>>toward a specific purpose - survival of the individual and the species.
>These are empty assertions of "mysticism" and "natural law" that I did not
>make. You did.

Others have made them before me. I am criticizing them. The distinction
should be apparent to you but apparently is not. I refer you to Robert
Anton Wilson's book on natural rights again.

>- samantha

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find the time to study Phil Osborn's
post on this subject which is considerably more rationally stated than yours.

Richard Steven Hack

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