Do Natural rights exist?

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Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Jägerbombastic on March 25th, 2016, 1:39 pm 

During the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosopher Aristotle theorized that human beings are born with a "law of nature". Much later during the rule of King John in England, the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 to protect natural rights of citizens and limit the power of the King. this leads to the question, does natural rights exist? Why or why not?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on March 25th, 2016, 8:39 pm 

Nature doesn't deal in abstract concepts; Nature does physics, chemistry and biology.

Societies make rules based on their survival needs, environment and mental complexity. All social insects, birds, fish and mammals have some understanding of duties and privileges, rank and status, based on the function (contribution) of each member of the group.

Humans have elaborated these relationships to far more complicated social structures than any other animal, and articulated theoretical bases for their particular type of organization. Where a human refers to "natural" rights, he usually means some assumption shared by his community about the role of individuals within it. This assumption often rests upon a shared religious belief - the god or gods conferred certain entitlements upon certain members of their nation (but not on people outside of it) or on an idea of what "man" is in relation to the world, or some other esoteric theory.

Aristotle and Archbishop of Canterbury had quite different definitions of a "natural" right. So will every other philosopher, legislator and jurist who makes determinations on who has what rights.

In short: No, of course not. It's something we have to keep working out.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby BadgerJelly on March 26th, 2016, 2:51 am 

Humans do physics, chemistry and biology. Nature just laughs at our feeble attempts to understand it! ;)

We have empathy. Empathy kind of requires us to make human laws once we enter into a social contract (unspoken contract not some literal piece of litany or literature).
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Eclogite on March 26th, 2016, 9:33 am 

Jägerbombastic » Fri Mar 25, 2016 5:39 pm wrote:During the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosopher Aristotle theorized that human beings are born with a "law of nature". Much later during the rule of King John in England, the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 to protect natural rights of citizens and limit the power of the King. this leads to the question, does natural rights exist? Why or why not?
You have skirted around offering a specific definition of "natural right". This makes it awkward to answer the question. On the other hand if you define it carefully that will itself answer the question. Some definitions will produce the answer "yes", others will produce the answer "no".
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Jägerbombastic on April 2nd, 2016, 8:47 pm 

Eclogite » March 26th, 2016, 9:33 am wrote:
Jägerbombastic » Fri Mar 25, 2016 5:39 pm wrote:During the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosopher Aristotle theorized that human beings are born with a "law of nature". Much later during the rule of King John in England, the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 to protect natural rights of citizens and limit the power of the King. this leads to the question, does natural rights exist? Why or why not?
You have skirted around offering a specific definition of "natural right". This makes it awkward to answer the question. On the other hand if you define it carefully that will itself answer the question. Some definitions will produce the answer "yes", others will produce the answer "no".


Ahh I see, then how would you define natural right?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Paul Anthony on April 2nd, 2016, 8:55 pm 

We have a natural right to try to survive, to try to prosper and to try to be happy. There are no natural guarantees of success.

The founders of the US phrased it thusly: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They were not foolish enough to claim we had a right to free health care or free education or free housing or free food or a guaranteed minimum wage just for showing up.

Most of the time I would like the right to be left alone, but even that doesn't happen automatically.:)
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Eclogite on April 3rd, 2016, 6:48 am 

Jägerbombastic » Sun Apr 03, 2016 12:47 am wrote:Ahh I see, then how would you define natural right?
At the risk of stalling the discussion, I wouldn't. Since the word "rights"is - in my view - overloaded with emotional, rather than rational connotations, discussing rights can evoke quite violent exchanges and passions.

Adding the adjective "natural" strongly implies, to me, an absolute right. I see no reason to believe there are any absolute rights. Rights are artificial and are accorded by individuals or cultures or philosophies. Many of the rights that are seen as "natural" rights are "good" ones. But this is my value judgment and if we try to describe these as natural we almost give up our responsibility for defending them.

If by natural right we mean as Paul Anthony suggests, rights to try to survive, etc., then we are not saying anything more than we are creatures of instinct. While that is 100% true calling this a pursuit of natural rights serves only to confuse the picture.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 3rd, 2016, 7:13 am 

Jägerbombastic » March 25th, 2016, 12:39 pm wrote:During the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosopher Aristotle theorized that human beings are born with a "law of nature". Much later during the rule of King John in England, the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 to protect natural rights of citizens and limit the power of the King. this leads to the question, does natural rights exist? Why or why not?


The Magna Carta only protected the rights of the peerage. There were no rights for the common people. So, are these rights "natural"? Or are they man-created?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on April 3rd, 2016, 10:29 am 

'Natural' and 'right' simply do not belong in the same sentence.

You can argue quite effectively about what is meant by the rights conferred upon citizens by a particular nation's constitution. You can even argue about what should be included in such a constitution, were it to be amended.

You can't argue about natural rights, because nobody can can define, let alone delimit, the subject of discussion. Like - - how do 13th century British monarchy and the modern public funding of health care come into a single topic?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 3rd, 2016, 10:50 am 

Good points, serpent, but I don't think you can leave history out of this topic. We immediately see history in what rights were had "then" and "now". Somehow, we can't avoid thinking. There is also the history of what the government declared and what actually happened. Natural rights in our constitution did nothing to actually give right to the Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, etc., as each group immigrated. And there I go, grabbing history again. Hard not to think about it.

I like your first sentence. It is that word "natural" that gets the argument into trouble. Natural rights would be rights from the very beginning. By the way, are "natural rights" the same as "inalienable rights"?

I'd best get back to my spring cleaning and ponder this. Carry on.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby TheVat on April 3rd, 2016, 11:34 am 

Viv, the best method of spring cleaning is to immerse the entire helical portion in soapy water. Wiping the coils down by hand takes too long, in my experience.

Agree there are no natural rights, as Eclo and Serp argued. That's why it's so important to legislate rights so carefully, with universally recognized principles in mind, e.g. be kind, do not harm others, do not take what is not yours, put yourself in the shoes of another when taking action that affects them, etc.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 3rd, 2016, 12:36 pm 

Braininvat » April 3rd, 2016, 10:34 am wrote:Viv, the best method of spring cleaning is to immerse the entire helical portion in soapy water. Wiping the coils down by hand takes too long, in my experience.

Agree there are no natural rights, as Eclo and Serp argued. That's why it's so important to legislate rights so carefully, with universally recognized principles in mind, e.g. be kind, do not harm others, do not take what is not yours, put yourself in the shoes of another when taking action that affects them, etc.


Or there are natural rights but no one follows them unless it benefits his own selfish interests.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on April 3rd, 2016, 2:13 pm 

vivian maxine » April 3rd, 2016, 9:50 am wrote:Good points, serpent, but I don't think you can leave history out of this topic.

No, but you can decide which period of whose history you're going to include.

We immediately see history in what rights were had "then" and "now".

Not really. We catch a glimpse of then/there juxtaposed with a glimpse of now/here, with no context for either. We might consider the rights of 4th century BC Athenian citizens in the context of their history and belief system and maybe compare those to the rights of 21st century Danish citizens in the context of their history and belief system, but you can't take one specific right of an Inca peasant and compare it to any one particular right of a modern Beijing widow, with reference to world history.
Not just shouldn't - can't.

.... Natural rights in our constitution

This is the United States? According to the belief-system which informed that document, the source of natural rights was the 18th century Protestant Christian version of God. They didn't refer to Nature.
did nothing to actually give right to the Irish, Italians, Germans, Chinese, etc., as each group immigrated. And there I go, grabbing history again. Hard not to think about it.

You're right. The founding federators stated their belief in equality of creation - a principle - and then detached it from the framing of a legal system in practice. That has often happened in history. It invariably fails to illuminate natural rights, either as a concept or in application. It also fails to illuminate inalienable rights: the same nation went on to divest citizens of rights that the constitution had conferred upon them - and several current presidental hopefuls are campaigning on a platform of alienation of rights from all kinds of citizenry.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Paul Anthony on April 3rd, 2016, 2:16 pm 

Historically, rights have always been granted by those who hold the power. Kings, Emperors, Pharaohs. Parliaments, Congresses...religious people often equate natural rights to those bestowed upon us by God.

If a right must be granted, it is not "natural".
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on April 3rd, 2016, 2:22 pm 

Just so.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 3rd, 2016, 3:24 pm 

What do "natural rights" have to do with "nature"? I know the words are related but are nature and natural rights related- if natural rights do exist? I keep seeing nature as physical while natural rights as -- what? Just wondering.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on April 3rd, 2016, 8:15 pm 

vivian maxine » April 3rd, 2016, 2:24 pm wrote:What do "natural rights" have to do with "nature"? I know the words are related but are nature and natural rights related- if natural rights do exist? I keep seeing nature as physical while natural rights as -- what? Just wondering.

I think some people use the word 'natural' to mean something like universal or basic. They're trying for a philosophical concept that precedes, or supersedes civilized law-making. But we can't eally find such a universally applicable concept, even in the most 'natural' of hunter-gatherer or fisher or forest-farming societies. They all look upon the individual differently; they all have their own strongly-held values, rules, priorities, organization, relationships, proprieties and status.

The idea of rights and responsibilities, prerogatives and duties may be universal, but the specifics most certainly are not.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby doogles on April 4th, 2016, 5:44 am 

Jägerbombastic » Fri Mar 25, 2016 1:39 pm wrote:During the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosopher Aristotle theorized that human beings are born with a "law of nature". Much later during the rule of King John in England, the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 to protect natural rights of citizens and limit the power of the King. this leads to the question, does natural rights exist? Why or why not?


We’ve talked before in this forum about the ‘interpretation’ of what is meant by any statements by anybody. One in particular was a reference to interpretation of each passage of the Qran.

So apropos of Aristotle’s use of the word ‘born’ in the above citation, my interpretation is that Aristotle wasn’t talking about ‘rights’ at all. Because he used the word ‘born’ in association with ‘law of nature’, he was talking about the innate primitive drives that are ‘hard-wired’ in all animals at birth. I believe he was talking about what Sigmund Freud later referred to as the ‘ID’ in our behavioural drives.

It is my opinion that Aristotle’s statement is irrelevant to this chat.

The Magna Carta itself, as far as I studied it about 20 years ago, has been chopped and changed through civil wars and rewritings over hundreds of years, but as far as I can ascertain, it never used the term ‘’natural rights of citizens’.

Just reviewing some of my old notes on Freedom and Rights, it did finish up as maybe THE FIRST DOCUMENT on ‘Rights’, in the sense that it was an agreement between parties, first drawn up in 1215. (There have been a number of recognised EDICTS on rights over the millennia, but they were EDICTS and not AGREEMENTS) Its main purpose was to give English Barons the right to overrule the will of the King if they did not agree with his edicts. Apparently, King John renounced this Magna Carta as soon as the Barons left London, and thus initiated the first English Civil War. But it was re-introduced when King John died, without the clauses giving Barons the rights to overrule the King. It did contain rules that applied to the average citizen - pertaining to inheritance, guardianship of estates, compensation, marriage of heirs, repayment of debts to Jews, taxes, the rights of law enforcers and of accused persons, standardisation of measurements, and of possession and dispossession of property.

It is these latter clauses that have given it the credibility over the centuries as a model for later legal documents such as the American Constitution.

But, it’s obvious that such laws relating to human rights are all ‘man-made’ and not ‘natural’ or innate. And that is the point that most of the posters prior to me have been saying.

Having said that, I’m going to stick my neck out and state that I have concluded that there is one UNIVERSAL law of Nature (Nature with a capital ‘N’) on 'Rights'. It applies to every interaction between every living organism on the planet, if you define ‘might’ as a superior power of any kind of the determiner above the recipient.

"MIGHT DETERMINES RIGHTS AT ANY GIVEN TIME"
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby TheVat on April 4th, 2016, 11:38 am 

I think some people use the word 'natural' to mean something like universal or basic. They're trying for a philosophical concept that precedes, or supersedes civilized law-making. But we can't eally find such a universally applicable concept, even in the most 'natural' of hunter-gatherer or fisher or forest-farming societies. They all look upon the individual differently; they all have their own strongly-held values, rules, priorities, organization, relationships, proprieties and status.

The idea of rights and responsibilities, prerogatives and duties may be universal, but the specifics most certainly are not.
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Agree about the specifics of how moral principles are translated into rights, but I would note that there are a few moral principles that have been found to cross all cultural lines, which could be characterized as "hard wired" in humans. Each culture may find exceptional circumstances to such principles, often where the distortions of power and subjugation are involved, but those I mentioned in my previous post do seem to hold in ordinary quotidian life. They probably boil down to "Do not steal goods or life from your peers, and reciprocal sharing is good." 5 year olds generally have it figured out, and then the local culture proceeds to break down this basic decency with qualifications and exceptions - e.g. "the people across the river are not actually your peers, so it's okay to rape, kill, and steal from them."
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 4th, 2016, 12:27 pm 

I do not recall where I read this. It was something of a history. In discussing the early development of communities (next step after individual families living separately), the author said that many families coming together awakened them to the need for cooperation if they were to survive as a group.

Cooperation would, I think, involve granting each other certain rights. Is that one form of "natural" rights? And would that not have started budding within the separate families before they started gathering into communities?

That is different from what I was thinking of as "natural" rights. As others have pointed out, definitions are needed - definitions everyone agrees to accept. Yes?

And, of course, that step led to doogles' quote: Might determines rights. But is that "natural" rights?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Paul Anthony on April 4th, 2016, 2:12 pm 

vivian,

Cooperation among members of a tribe or community is more closely related to a trade agreement than natural rights. Whatever 'rights' are granted in such a case are conditional upon a quid pro quo. "I won't kill you if you don't kill me."

And, even within the tribe or community we see 'might makes right' play out. Every group has a leader who has more 'rights' than the others.

This is why kings and emperors could bestow (or rescind) the rights given to his subjects. It is true even in a democratically elected government, If you doubt that, you've probably never experienced an IRS audit. :)
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby vivian maxine on April 4th, 2016, 2:38 pm 

Paul Anthony » April 4th, 2016, 1:12 pm wrote:vivian,

Cooperation among members of a tribe or community is more closely related to a trade agreement than natural rights. Whatever 'rights' are granted in such a case are conditional upon a quid pro quo. "I won't kill you if you don't kill me."

And, even within the tribe or community we see 'might makes right' play out. Every group has a leader who has more 'rights' than the others.

This is why kings and emperors could bestow (or rescind) the rights given to his subjects. It is true even in a democratically elected government, If you doubt that, you've probably never experienced an IRS audit. :)


Oh, I don't doubt that and there are plenty of other examples of the same. Might still makes rights and, in a way, those rights are natural because they are the natural outcome of being in charge, of being the big boss.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Serpent on April 4th, 2016, 3:56 pm 

vivian maxine » April 4th, 2016, 11:27 am wrote:I do not recall where I read this. It was something of a history. In discussing the early development of communities (next step after individual families living separately), the author said that many families coming together awakened them to the need for cooperation if they were to survive as a group.
Cooperation would, I think, involve granting each other certain rights. Is that one form of "natural" rights? And would that not have started budding within the separate families before they started gathering into communities?

I can't picture a hominid species that would have lived in separate families of the kind we have now. The great apes tend to form troupes or tribes, numbering as many individuals as the typical primitive human village. Of course, they would all be related, but for a few incoming mates and stolen infants.
Maybe that's what the author meant by a family.
Okay, then, the clan will already be very well accustomed to co-operation and sharing; they will already have a hierarchy and some division of duty and privilege - even if it only means small children and injured hunters are excused from buffalo-skinning, or that old and sick people get to sit close to the fire. They wouldn't have to think about this: it's common sense and courtesy. Since the old person is the grandmother who chewed your first coconut pulp, you would quite naturally pull her mat to the warmest corner when her joints ache - and she would quite as naturally expect it.

Problems of definition arise when two or more such clans join together - say, in the face a natural catastrophe or under threat from an invader.
Then, with more ways to share, and people having to share with those they haven't known their whole lives, there would be rivalry, competition, scuffles over chores and placement. Fighting is generally destructive to any tribe; a composite tribe could easily be destroyed. So the leaders of both clans would likely discuss it and make a rule whenever they noticed a conflict forming around some issue.

All old people have a right to be close to the fire.
People with a broken bone have a right to water, even if they didn't fetch any.
Hunters get first cut of meat.
Nursing females are excused from sex.

Those rules are sort of natural - they're the sort of rules any sensible herd, pack or flock would observe. However, once we get into the complex stratification and alienation of civilized societies, the rules become less sensible, less natural, and more tailored to abstruse economics. If the compound society is made up of conquerors and conquered, the rules are turned up-side-down. Once you get organized religion, they go quite wonky.

'Might' has changed from the patriarch of a clan, who has a huge amount of personal effort, time, emotion and DNA invested in each member of his troupe, to a monarch or legislator or CEO, presiding over thousands or millions of cyphers with some arbitrary theoretical unit value.

Essentially, the more 'advanced' a civilization, the less natural its system of rights and privileges becomes. And that's probably why its members so often grope for the origin of the concept: the kernel of truth.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby mtbturtle on April 4th, 2016, 6:40 pm 

Inventing Human Rights by Lynn Hunt might be of interest to some wrt this topic.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby mtbturtle on April 4th, 2016, 7:53 pm 

Human rights require three interlocking qualities: rights must be natural (inherent in human beings); equal (the same for everyone); and universal (applicable everywhere). For rights to be human rights, all humans everywhere in the world must possess them equally and only because of their status as human beings.....yet even naturalness, equality , and universality are not quite enough. Human rights only become meaningful when they gain political content. They are not the rights of humans in a state of nature; they are the rights of humans in society. They are not just humans rights as opposed to divine rights, or human rights as opposed to animal rights; they are the rights of humans vis-a-vis each other. They are therefore rights guaranteed in the secular political world (even if they are called "sacred"), and they are rights that require active participation from those who hold them. (Hunt -inventing Human Rights: A History pp16-21)
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Paul Anthony on April 4th, 2016, 8:27 pm 

I confess, I haven't read the entire book. Drawing conclusions from the excerpt you have provided may very well miss the mark, but it seems the author is saying;

(1) Human rights are determined by societies; and
(2) Human rights exist by mutual consent.

I agree, as I suspect most here will. But, I have a problem with the 'three interlocking qualities'.

(1) must be natural (inherent in human beings). We have been discussing this and seem to have concluded that there are no rights 'inherent in human beings'. I imagine the author expounds further on this concept elsewhere in the book, but can you give us a synopsis of her meaning?

(2) equal (the same for everyone). Yes, that seems an appropriate precondition.

(3) universal (applicable everywhere). Societies vary. I'm not sure there are any rights that are currently universally recognized around the globe.

If rights must meet all three criteria, I would have to conclude that human rights as defined by the author do not exist.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby mtbturtle on April 4th, 2016, 8:33 pm 

universality does not require recognition.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby Paul Anthony on April 4th, 2016, 9:03 pm 

mtbturtle » Mon Apr 04, 2016 5:33 pm wrote:universality does not require recognition.


If rights are determined by societies and exist by mutual consent how could recognition not be required?
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby d30 on April 11th, 2016, 11:01 pm 

Does the following clarification resolve the question, "Are there natural rights"? Seems to, to me anyway.

No, there is no such thing as "natural rights," meaning inherent in nature (intrinsic to life). Nature, the natural, is characterized by, e.g., the phrase "might makes right," as briefly cited in one post here. That is what's natural.

That is, nature is governed by "the law of the jungle," "kill or be killed," "devil take the hindmost," etc. That is, in the jungle, the wild, no creature has any rights, such as 'to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," at least no rights that will be observed and respected by any other animals (interested solely in territory in which to get their food, propagate their own kind as safely as possible, etc., whatever the cost to other species, including no rights).

All rights, are artificial (made by man, not givens; not an inherent part of life).

This is one (of many) issues where it pays to heed the difference between nature (jungle, wild) and civilization. Might is of the jungle. Right is of civilization. So, you could say, there are "natural rights" only in civilization, not in nature, at least not until nature develops, via its humans, civilization, which does have innate natural rights.
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Re: Do Natural rights exist?

Postby wolfhnd on April 12th, 2016, 4:54 am 

"It is a mistake to imagine that slavery pervades a man's whole being; the better part of him is exempt from it: the body indeed is subjected and in the power of a master, but the mind is independent, and indeed is so free and wild, that it cannot be restrained even by this prison of the body, wherein it is confined."

Seneca the Younger

Daniel Dennett has been arguing that neuroscientist are making a serious mistake by dismissing free will as an illusion. I think many people are making a similar mistake in regards to natural rights. While it may be true that natural rights are a social construct that does not mean that they are not real or that they necessarily must be universally observed to be real. Just as we are not concerned when talking about free will with absolute free will but only with practical free will when we consider natural rights we are proposing what is necessary for us to be moral agents.

The source of confusion is that natural rights can exist even if they are not universally accepted. Just as many people do not accept that a language instinct is a precondition for language they may also reject the idea that "moral" instincts are precondition for morality. Consider what would be required for a robot to be a moral agent. If the robot can suffer it can be a moral agent but to suffer it must have some level of "consciousness". The robots legal status has nothing to do with it's eligibility for moral agency only it's conscious understanding that it has something to lose is required. Similarly the legal enactment of rights says nothing about natural rights.

Legal rights require natural rights by definition but not all legal rights are natural rights. The evolution and elaboration of rights is another question.
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