Human rights are a social construct and are only guaranteed by the grace of others

December 1, 2016, 7:18 am

Agree29 Disagree11

73%
28%

The debate "Human rights are a social construct and are only guaranteed by the grace of others" was started by TheExistentialist on December 1, 2016, 7:18 am. 29 people are on the agree side of this discussion, while 11 people are on the disagree side. That might be enough to see the common perception. It looks like most of the people in this community are on the agreeing side of this statement.

TheExistentialist posted 16 arguments, PoliticsAsUsual posted 1 argument, RogueAmerican posted 4 arguments to the agreers part.
neveralone posted 6 arguments, RogueAmerican posted 6 arguments to the disagreers part.

TheExistentialist, Yanksxx21, XenoBoy, PoliticsAsUsual, thereal, jack_tim_45, wmd, Kawaii88, Blue_ray, melmac, adriana, Your_dad, human, ProfDoke and 15 visitors agree.
neveralone, RogueAmerican and 9 visitors disagree.

RogueAmerican
replied to...

I dont view the right as the social contract. I view the social contract only as a means to ensure them and have a harmonious society. I believe that the rights are fundamentally there. In order for people to prosper and live, we must have life, liberty, and property. Regardless of our social contract, we need these things.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@rogue
I would argue that your position seems very much like what I have been describing:
We have a preference (like animals) for certain conditions: life, liberty, etc...
We have the capacities to defend these preferences to a degree.
We have the capacity to reason and express these preferences and work out a social structure which guarantees these preferences in exchange for some of our capacities.

I still don't see where rights originate other than through a social contract in your points.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Most likely because we are having this conversation.

2 years, 6 months ago
PsychDave
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Then what creates the distinction between what you define as our natural rights and animals behaving identically?

We are claiming that all rights are social constructs and that there is no such thing as a natural right. If there is, what defines it? Your original definition is that anything we resist we have a right to avoid. This definition grants animals the same rights. How do you justify this?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

A propos to humanity. I never advocated for the protection of animals.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

Under your explanation of the metaphysics of "rights", wouldn't you have to?

If rights arise from the resistance of their violation, then everything we resist is thus a right; and anything which can resist is thus entitled to rights. So an ant, resisting it's death therefore has a right to life.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

I misread the implication of their equality.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Would you equate the killing of an animal of food to the killing of a man?

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

Why are humans somehow "different" in regards to rights? And doesn't that mean the domestication of animals is equivalent to the denial of the right to liberty on a mass scale?

2 years, 6 months ago

Somewhat yes, but I would place humanity on a higher level than animals.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@rogue
Sorry, been busy lately, looks like this thread saw some action though.

"What I mean by natural is this. If somebody wanted to kill you, would you resist....Naturally, we oppose these things."

This grants every animal the same rights and therefore consideration as a human. Are you telling me that an instinct for survival, or a preference for survival grants one the right to life? If an animal defends it's burrow, does it have a right to a burrow?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Yeah we have agreed our rights are rights. That is purely nominal.

2 years, 6 months ago

I'm saying it is a social construct. no different than rights or duties we, as a society, have agreed to.

this isn't all that complicated.

2 years, 6 months ago

Because that isn't what im arguing. Do you then claim taxation is a personal right?

2 years, 6 months ago

I don't know which part of this you aren't getting. it has been explained repeatedly.

we as a society decided that we would pay taxes. we as a society decided that we would not kill each other. these are both social constructs we created. there is no such thing as natural human right.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Not to mention, they are often Constitutionally surrendered.

2 years, 6 months ago

Taxes pertain to surrendering rights for the sake of the nation. I dont understand. No right was created.

2 years, 6 months ago

exactly. society as a whole decided what rights should and should not be protected. they are a social construct. like every other right you describe as a natural right.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

The social contract was broken by Britain. They were taxing without the consent of the governed.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

We entered a social contract to pay taxes. That is the foundation of the entire contract and government.

2 years, 6 months ago

actually there are people who would argue that. but Dave is right. you are pointing out that people will resist things they don't like and assuming that means it's a natural right. there have been many uprisings over taxes. there have been uprisings over conscription. but there is no "natural right" to not pay taxes or to refuse to serve in the military in times if crisis.

2 years, 6 months ago

Nor would anybody argue taxes shouldn't exist.

2 years, 6 months ago
PsychDave
replied to...

If someone wanted to take a portion of your income, would you resist it? Most people would, and that is why they claim things and deduct as much from their taxes as they can. That doesn't mean we have a natural right to not pay taxes. Resistance to something negative doesn't demonstrate a right, it demonstrates self interest.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

What I mean by natural is this. If somebody wanted to kill you, would you resist and why? If they wanted to throw you in a dungeon, would you resist and why? If somebody stole your car, would you resist and why? Naturally, we oppose these things.

2 years, 6 months ago

Rights may very well be infringed upon. The reason for a revocable social contract was to resist this since it was a clear possibility. But no matter what you do to a man, he will always cherish life, liberty, and property.

As westerners we take rights for granted since we have succeeded the greatest political movement of all time. We have been too close to a functioning government to understand the horrors of oppression. Rights as they were defined for us are what humans need. Life, liberty, and property are the pillars of human need and desire. We would not feel any different under a tyrant, and we are morally and eventually naturally obligated to resist it. The social contract is not a declaration of rights as everything declared is nominal. The government agrees to give protection to your rights. If they forcefully impose on them, my rights are still existant; however, I must and will choose to remove that threat.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

"the nature of man and government has always revolved around these rights "

I don't know of I'd agree that the "nature of man" shows us that we have revolved around rights. I'd say that the concept of human rights is actually a fairly recent one.

"No matter what you do, you may not remove them from people. Natural law dictates what it must remain even when oppressed."
What is stopping me from removing rights. If I'm a dictator, what exactly is stopping me from imposing my will and removing the rights of individuals? I fail to see an objective source of these rights. Natural law doesn't permit you any rights, it permits you capacitirs. Rights are only present when established. If you want to claim that nature somehow grants us rights, then how can not be subject to those rights until we are in agreement about having those rights? Again, without a social contract to affirm it, how can I have a right to life in nature?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

That is where we enter the absolute beauty of natural law. Jefferson wrote "it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it" in cases of incrimination on rights.

We can look at our own history to show us the significance. The colonists had been deprived of liberty and property by the British after the French and Indian War. Both of these things drove them absolutely mad because they have a natural call to them. This same call led them to revoke their social contract with the British Empire.

2 years, 6 months ago

You misunderstand me. I purely claim that the only social aspect of rights is the observance of them. As I said before, the nature of man and government has always revolved around these rights (whether stated or not). No matter what you do, you may not remove them from people. Natural law dictates what it must remain even when oppressed.

I argue that, even in Russia, the reason people gravitated towards these ideals is that they were inclined to them by nature. You can watch it in societies divided by time and land. A human nature and need for life, liberty, and property exist. A government must be made to foster these inherent needs.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

Don't these historical evolutions of civil rights show us that rights are indeed dependent on social contracts then.

Furthermore, doesn't it show us that government itself is the subject to those same social contracts (I.e. we have a right to rebel and overthrow a government which fails to fulfill its part of the social contract). It seems that your explanation of rights requires society for rights to exist as well.

So are you in agreement that rights come from social contracts and don't exist in some objective nature?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

That was purely to your final question

2 years, 6 months ago

Rights I believe are the observed historical needs of civilizations and individuals. We see within numerous European states and states all over the world a revelation of what works. The reason we have rights are because of fundamental obligations people owe to each other and themselves in order to be productive. We have seen juxtapositions of what societies accomplish with and without property. With and without life (for example, your Japanese). We see what happens when liberty is violated in censured and oppressive regimes. We then must take a philosophic view of the vast scope of human history. Nations that have placed an emphasis on life, liberty, and property have been successful to higher degrees than their counterparts. If we observe for instance, the distinctions between Britian and Russia. The history of both nations are filled with war; however, we can see prosperity in Britain as the Russian monarchy collapsed. I believe that many of these things are a result of the great philosophic leaps made in Britain to edge towards freedom. At the same time, Russia was struggling with serfdom (which granted, ended), neopatrimonialism, and political oppression.

As we observe these changes, they were led by one thing--freedom. The Bolsheviks sought to create a society of equality; however, their views were misguided. Thwir efforts led to further collapse. The British all the while had been drifting closer amd closer to freedom, and that is why they have not had a major political revolution nor change in government for a long time.

Although both nations chose different social contracts, we can see one thing: the prosperity of each nation respectively has an obvious connection to what emphasis each placed on what I would call natural rights. These rights are fundamental not because it has been agreed upon as so (which it has), but because they are necessary to stable society.

2 years, 6 months ago

murder has been a right throughout our history, including US history.

in every society up until the enlightenment, commoners, peasants, serbs, and in general poor people/nomadic people have been killed at the whim of those of better background.

and here in the states for much of our history, black and Indian lives were equally disposable.

the right to life, much like the rest of our "rights" are a social construct as the kill or be killed world we come from had less than 0 consideration for the sanctity of any form life.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you are emphasizing that we need a society to have rights (as outside of a society, there is nothing to be ensured of)."

In a sense, yes.

"I would move to say that in solitude, we do not need to explicitly define our rights because we are in nature. I believe that rights and nature are one in the same"

Complete solitude isn't really a possibility however. So at some point we will have to interact with other humans. In those interactions you don't have rights, you can't expect to be granted rights, and you can only guarantee your life through your own capacities or the kindness of others.

If we imagine a place with no state, no society, we have to look at human nature a bit. Humans are, in general, equal in their capacity to harm. Many humans are also greedy and have a propensity for violence. This means there is likely to be a state of constant war between people. We can substantiate this claim with historical evidence of waring tribes etc.....in this state we have only reason and self interest to govern our actions. Our self interests are essentially preferences. With these preferences and reason we can easily see that life would be preferable if we agreed to suspend our capacities to harm each other and instead cooperated. This would then be a society. Within which we have decided that we have "rights".

These rights are simply preferences of how we would like to be treated and which capacities we want to surrender. So if we want to have a society where property is secure we can either say you have the right to your property, or we can say that no one may exercise their capacity to steal property from you.

These "rights" must then somehow be protected, that protection comes in the form of government. The social contract however comes before government and thus shapes it (this was the idea behind constitutional government and why John Locke is really the voice of the declaration of Independence and in some ways the Constitution).

I would pose this to you: if not from a social contract enforced by government, where do "rights" come from, why are should we observe them, in a sense what are rights if not social contracts?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

I believe many would argue that murder is not a right, as do I. Even if we were in an anarchist state, I believe by our very nature we continue to be entitled to a right to life, liberty, and property. The issue we find in anarchy is there is no social contract we can develop as to protect ourselves to what we are owed by existence. I would argue that, as you already noted, food is not a right to life because we may not ensure to ourselves what we do not possess. If as a society, we determined that everyone should have food, it would not be a right, but a social construct.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you are emphasizing that we need a society to have rights (as outside of a society, there is nothing to be ensured of).

If that is indeed your position, I would move to say that in solitude, we do not need to explicitly define our rights because we are in nature. I believe that rights and nature are one in the same. If in society, we arrive at a position in which people will transgress our nature--blatantly disregard our rights--so that we must enumerate and express our rights. I do not mean create, I simply mean we clarify our rights.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@rogue
I'll go through this in a few sections, as it's pretty loaded.

" (1) Rights are never self-limiting, they exist to their fullest extent according to their definitions. (2)They are only limited by government which, if we consider the US, exists to be a negative contributor to rights. The government is the restrictive because a government must be restrictive to act and exist."

1) rights are limited by the extend to which we agree that they ought to be protected. The right to life isn't really a right to life for example. I doubt you'd argue that the "right" to life actually means the "right" to life as this would encompass the "right" to food, water, shelter, etc.... as life is not possible without these. So as a function, the "right" to life is then the "right" to not be murdered and the "right" to exercise those capacities which allow for life (the acquisition of resources, etc...)

2) I'd argue they are limited by how we define the "rights" in a given society. Again, the "right" to life isn't limited by the government, it is limited by what we allow the government to guarantee an individual in regards to their "life". The swiss are starting to work on Universal basic incomes for example, so their "right" to life may soon encompass the "right" to resources necessary for life. In the US we don't encompass the right to resources into the right to life; in 2014 for example 4,000 died of starvation in the US. No system is in place to guarantee resources necessary for life in the US.

".... Again, I insist the social contract is a forfeiture of rights for a communal benefit."

I think we're actually very close here. The only distinction I would make is that you don't forfeit any "rights" by entering a social contract, you forfeit a capacity. Meaning that in the absence of a society you have the capacity for life, the capacity to fend for yourself, the capacity to acquire resources, the capacity to dominate and enslave those weaker than you, etc.... However, you don't have a "right" to life, or a "right" to murder/dominate others. When you enter a society, you forfeit the capacity to murder (with some exceptions of course) in order to receive the "right" to not be murdered; you receive the right to keep your resources in exchange for your capacity to acquire them in ways which violate the social contract.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@rogue
I'll go through your posts and points, it seems like we're not actually that far off. I'll preface this by saying that I'm attempting to merge Hobbs (Leviathan), Locke (two treaties of government), and in some ways Socrates and Plato (dialogue with Crito and the Republic). Essentially I'll argue human nature as described by Hobbs (life outside society would be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short), the role and limitations of Government by Locke, and the obligations of citizens to their government by Socrates and in some sense Plato (although Plato not so much). So this is a bit of an experimental conversation for me simply trying to have others poke holes into the thought process.

"The social contract is merely a forfeiture of rights, nothing more"
I'd argue it's not a forfeiture of rights, rather a forfeiture of capacities. So engaging in a social contract which guarantees the "right" to life, means that I forfeit my capacity to murder in exchange for a promise that others in the society do the same. I don't forfeit a "right" to murder by granting someone a "right" to life. I maintain my "right" to murder in the exceptions that a social contract provides (i.e. self defense, war, etc...)

I'll address these points together: "You seemed to refer to the government as the one guaranteeing rights" and the nature of addressing grievances with the Government; i.e. your point about Europe.
I'd say government is the tool we use to enforce the social contract we have. We have the ability to address grievances with the government because if it violates it's portion of the social contract, we are no longer obligated to adhere to it.
I'll borrow from Locke here: When the executive power of a government devolves into tyranny, such as by dissolving the legislature and therefore denying the people the ability to make laws for their own preservation, then the resulting tyrant puts himself into a State of Nature, and specifically into a state of war with the people, and they then have the same right to self-defense as they had before making a compact to establish society in the first place.

"Rights are only restrictive if granted by the government"
Rights are never granted by a government though, they are simply protected by it. Rights are granted out of a voluntary forfeiture of capacities in order to enter a society. So government can't restrict "rights" since they don't exist outside of society. It only restricts capacities.

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Before I forget, I mentioned those rhetorical questions to drive you to a certain state of mind. I meant to dispel correlations to other states. I wanted to show that these rights we find inalienable create more cohesive societies than slaughtering peasants.

2 years, 6 months ago

Quite simply. A right to life ensures an individual right to life. I may circumvent somebody else's right by murder, but this would be a retraction of their liberty. In order to prevent me from violating their right to life and strip them of their liberty, I must institute a restrictive agency to protect persons from violations. Again, I insist the social contract is a forfeiture of rights for a communal benefit.

2 years, 6 months ago

The social contract is merely a forfeiture of rights, nothing more. You seemed to refer to the government as the one guaranteeing rights, but I argue it is preservation. This may seem ridiculous and both are equal, but bare with me.

For much of European history, the social contract has been irrevocable. The United States sought to create a revocable social contract in order to ensure that rights are preserved. If one government breached rights without cause or failed to act to preserve rights (whether by intense corruption or poor structure), then the people had to alter or abolish the government. Notice how all of these ideas pertain to individuals and preservation ensuring that the people were the keepers of their rights. Again I draw attention to the difference betweem guaranteeing amd preserving.

Being such an intimate relation, people act to ensure their rights, but the government being divided from this formulation, simply protect. You challenged me to show when rights are not restrictive.Rights are only restrictive if granted by the government. The social contract you refer to is a necessary tragedy, to live im society we must surrender some of our rights. We willingly decide that we will forfeit property in the form of taxes. Liberty in imprisonment, and life, well rarely.

Rights are never self-limiting, they exist to their fullest extent according to their definitions. They are only limited by government which, if we consider the US, exists to be a negative contributor to rights. The government is the restrictive because a government must be restrictive to act and exist.

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

it's all good I should of put the question with it. live and learn

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

got it, you were answering rogue. My bad.

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

Should every human be ensured that his life will not be taken by another? His liberty and freedom never abridged? His property never taken?

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@neveralone.
can you throw in some quotes or reference the comments that you're referring to, I can't make sense of the answers you gave since I don't know what comment they're referring to?

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@Rogue
"Should every human be ensured that his life will not be taken by another? His liberty and freedom never abridged? His property never taken?"
I would say that I have a strong preference to live in a society which has those values, sure. It's beneficial to me to live in a society which values such "rights". However, I don't think there is some independent concept which mandates those rights.

"If we begin to observe rights as privileges or mere desires at the whims of society, we lose them"
Rights are different from privileges in nature though, even if they are human constructs. Privileges are actions we allow you to take, i.e. driving is a privilege, etc... Rights are essentially a forfeiture of freedoms in order to protect someone else's ability to live without worrying about the acts of others. So the right to life is not really a "right" to life, rather it is a forfeiture of the capacity for murder. You can't really guarantee life, you can only agree to not murder each other. If you could guarantee life, then you would have to guarantee food, water, shelter, medicine, etc... Those are aspects needed for life which we don't guarantee, even though we claim that we have a "right" to life. We can't ensure life without ensuring the needs for life are met. However, society doesn't function that way. We don't guarantee life, we guarantee that we will punish people who violate their forfeiture of the capacity to murder. We don't guarantee liberty, we guarantee punishment for those that violate their forfeiture to influence your liberty.

I would further argue that because the majority of a society has a vested interest in maintaining the social contract which guarantees certain rights, it is not whimsical in nature. Rather it is strengthened through time and adherence. It also means that new rights can be added when we feel the need. If, for example, we come to a time where resources become so plentiful and good jobs so scarce, we could decide that we should grant a "right" to people which guarantees the bare necessities for life. This however, would mean a forfeiture of the capacity to accumulate resources. Societies without resources to support such a "right" may not want to grant this "right" to it's populous.

I challenge you to describe a right functioning in any other way than a forfeiture of capacity. I further challenge you to describe the nature of authority to enforce those rights without a social contract.

2 years, 6 months ago

sorry sent without finishing.
the two arguable is war, death sentence, and add another self defense

I know there is situations where they will have to be overruled but idk ones.

only when the gov. really needs it and can pay him/her a little more than what there surveyor says to

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

good question. I would say every situation has to be looked at. for the life one there's only two that I can see arguable

2 years, 6 months ago

We come to an overarching theme that if rights are intangible--irreversible even--then there is a stronger more cohesive system. Having rights guaranteed universally and inherently guarantees a proactive base of law. If we begin to observe rights as privileges or mere desires at the whims of society, we lose them. As of now, we see what humanity must have.

Ill ask you this in an abstract way. Should every human be ensured that his life will not be taken by another? His liberty and freedom never abridged? His property never taken?

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

that's true on the right to live. for example of a flaw in my reasoning that I have found is babies have that right when born but beforehand they don't. at least to society. they can't fight for themselves. I would go like our forefathers and say God gives us these rights but then I would have to prove His existence. so ill just skip that

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@neveralone
"in other words u have the right as long as ur willing to defend it"
Sort of, a society can defend your "rights" for you. If "rights" are an agreement between people, then everyone subject to that agreement has a vested interest in protecting the agreement. Since consequences are the only way to uphold the agreement, society is responsible for bringing those consequences upon violators.

"u have the right to live"
Where does that right come from though? What grants you the "right" to live? If it is just your ability to defend yourself, then it's not a right, it's a capacity.

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

@rogue
If you look at my claim, I acknowledge that "rights" are necessary for a cohesive society. My claim is that these rights are an agreement, rather than being somehow separate, somehow independent of these agreements.

As to this "If we decide that rights are social constructs"
How so? How does looking at rights as an agreement change how governments and society operates? Are you claiming that one must accept some independent standard of "rights" in order for them to function?

2 years, 6 months ago
RogueAmerican
replied to...

Do you assume that the lower classes never had an inclination of not being stabbed? If we look at a civilization that doesn't recognize universal rights, there is no social cohesion. Under the implication that all rights are inalienable, we are forced to recognize the dignity and value of ever human being. If we decide that rights are social constructs, pray that you are powerful or the majority.

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

true it is new. but the life ones seems to be there. wow Japan has some bad history hopefully they can overcome it. there history. u have the right to live but people have always tried to take that right. in other words u have the right as long as ur willing to defend it

2 years, 6 months ago
TheExistentialist
replied to...

because those are preferences we have as to how we would like to be treated. Let's not forget, freedom of speech is a relatively new "right" in human history. The "right" to life is not something that was valued universally throughout history. In feudal japan for example, if you were a member of a certain class you were allowed to test the sharpness of your blade on others of a lower class.

The preference to have freedom of speech and the right to life are therefore substantiated by our agreement to not use our capacity for violating such preferences.

If we decided to grant a right to the basic necessities of life, we could do so. We would have to give up our freedom to acquire resources without regard for others, but we could. So a right is necessarily dependent on the suspension of a freedom by others.

2 years, 6 months ago
neveralone
replied to...

ok how is it that everyone wants certain rights like freedom of speech? everyone believes in some rights since birth. the right to live has almost always been one as well

2 years, 6 months ago

the proposition is essentially a challenge to concept of human rights as a given.

Human rights are not innate, they are agreed upon principals which guide society. Essentially, we give up certain freedoms in order to guarantee a certain security from the freedom others could exercise.

So life is not a right, instead, we have agreed to suspend our capacity to end life in order to create a stable society.
Liberty is not a right, instead, we have agreed not to impede each others liberty so that we can pursue goals according to our capacity.

Being mostly equal in our capacity to destroy each other grants us the power to enforce these agreements. So the enforcement of these agreements is a threat of the harm we can bring upon each other if these agreements are violated.

2 years, 6 months ago
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