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Wrong About Rights

The trial of Bill Burns, the first prosecution under the 1822 Martin's Act for cruelty to animals, after Burns was found beating his donkey.

The trial of Bill Burns, the first prosecution under the 1822 Martin’s Act for cruelty to animals, after Burns was found beating his donkey.

Recently an American acquaintance of mine told me that, when asked, he informed a group of students that he did not believe animals had rights, and this deeply shocked them. They did not merely disagree with him: they simply could not take on board that any intelligent, sane, and civilized person could hold such a view. It was as if someone had gone to Mecca and said there is no God and therefore Mohammed could not have been his prophet.

One of the characteristics of our age that may surprise future social historians (if there are any) is the speed with which ideas go from being generally regarded as ludicrous and unthinkable to being conceivable, then accepted, then ensconced as unchallengeable orthodoxy. This makes it difficult for satirists; satire becomes prophecy and, in practically no time at all, mere description.

My acquaintance, too, was in his own state of shock—at the uniformity of opinion among the students. It was as if they had been brainwashed. More alarming still, they were far from stupid: on the contrary, they were young members of what is now called the cognitive elite, who were destined by their education and intelligence to play a prominent role in their society. Perhaps it is merely the destiny of men of my age to lament the defects of the younger generation, but I do not recall such uniformity of opinion when I was young.

Not long after this conversation, I read in a British newspaper that many of the candidates for election to the governing council of a venerable charity, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), were animal rights activists. Traditionally the RSPCA has been dedicated to rescuing animals subjected to obvious ill-treatment such as neglect, starvation, overwork, and physical abuse, as well as from illness and injury. Such a mission  was universally regarded as admirable, except perhaps for a tiny minority who believed with Descartes that animals are mere automata. There was little opposition to such work, though the importance you ascribed to it depended on how important you thought the problem was by comparison with others. But no one said he was actually in favor of cruelty to animals.

Consider now, though, what has happened to the definition of cruelty. One of the candidates for the RSPCA’s governing council, a man called John Bryant, redefines it to the point of absurdity. He holds that the keeping of pets of any description is a contravention of animals’ rights, among which is that to freedom. All fish, for example, should be released into open waters forthwith. The fact that most of them would not survive more than a few minutes would count for nothing. Freedom is freedom and not another thing. Did not Benjamin Franklin warn us that he who sacrificed his freedom for security would end up with neither? Why should it be any different for goldfish?

Little wonder, then, that Bryant believes all dogs should be released from their leashes, collars, kennels, and baskets. He compares their state to that of domestic slavery. He does not want them to be released into the exterior wherever they are (the condition of ownerless dogs in Africa and Asia is not encouraging, famished, flea-bitten, battle-scarred and plagued by sores as they are), but rather that they should be allowed to die out by not being able to reproduce. Within 15 years they would cease to exist and would thus be released from their terrible servitude.

Nor is this even the most extreme of views held by candidates for the RSPCA’s governing council. Another, for example, believes that animals should be represented in Parliament by members dedicated to their interests and rights alone—this despite that the interests of owls and mice, rabbits and stoats, or spiders and flies occasionally conflict.

Two aspects of all this strike me as revelatory of the current state of our collective soul. The first is the degree to which the notion of rights has impoverished our moral imagination, and the second is the degree of faith that many people put in abstractions, so that no deduction drawn from them is so absurd that it shakes that faith.

The notion of rights seems often to crowd out all other moral considerations. It as if those who believed in animal rights could conceive of no other reason why animals should be treated decently or humanely than that they were endowed with rights. Without such rights, supposedly, any treatment of them would be permitted. In other words, the concept of rights in this case, as in many others, is a defense against an inner moral vacuum.

The idea that animals have rights because they need them is obviously absurd as well as historically wrong. The founders of the RSPCA did not believe that animals had rights; they merely took it as axiomatic that people should not be cruel towards them because it was wrong in itself. It caused unnecessary suffering to no end other than an evil gratification.

The proponents of animal rights, in contrast, believe in the following pseudo-syllogism:

We desire that animals should be treated well.

They will be treated well only if they have rights.

Therefore animals have rights.

The second aspect is this propensity to follow an argument to its absurd conclusion, and still believe the conclusion. For some reason the absurdity does not lead animal rights activists to question either the premises or the logic of the argument. This is the way totalitarians think. Mao, for example, thought that if the only way to bring about the socialist paradise was a nuclear war in which half of humanity was killed, then so be it. The future hypothetical socialist paradise was more real to his mind than the hundreds of millions of dead necessary to bring it about.

It is a strange love of dogs that wishes their extinction. The self-evident fact that millions of happy dogs love their masters and are loved in return is as nothing compared with the deduction from an abstraction that dogs should not be pets.

Totalitarian modes of thought tempt intellectuals still, even if ideology has been balkanized into a hundred little causes.

Reader Discussion

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on June 01, 2015 at 09:06:38 am

It would appear that the students possess a confused understanding of just what a right is. All rights take their meaning in relationship to government. So in the absence of government, there are no rights.

Rights do not inhere in an individual--they are rather relational. They consist of two sorts: a proscription on what government can do, eg., "congress shall make no law . . ."; or a mandatory requirement that a government shall act in a particular fashion with regard to an individual, which can be considered as something to which an individual is entitled from government. An example of the latter is the mandate that my government require, by force if necessary, that numerous other people interrupt their lives and show up at a court, in order that I may enjoy the benefits of trial by jury.

Rights are often associated with the notion that individuals possess intrinsic dignity. The idea that all individuals possess an intrinsic dignity that must be respected by others can in turn can be justified in a variety of ways: by Christian theology, by Kantian deontology, by reference to documents like the the 1948 Universal Declaration of Rights. I think I am correct that some legal theorists find the dignity of the individual inherent in the Commonlaw.

Some prominent ethicists--Peter Singer, for example--have extended such lines of thought to include animals. I suspect that there are strands of Christian theology, such as the teaching of St. Francis of Assissi, that all of God's creation deserves respect, that also could serve as grounds for the notion that animals have a dignity that must be protected by rights.

But I am not certain one would wish to claim that all rights exist to protect dignity. Nor do I think it is completely crazy to claim that in some cases animals possess either negative or positive rights. I think, to judge such claims, we would have to explore the ethical justifications for them.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on June 01, 2015 at 09:29:07 am

A reposting: (originally with respect to the "Human Rights" of Chimpanzees)

Rights Are?

So far in all this we do not see attempts to describe what a “right” is.

For most of the posts here it would seem that a right is a form of power over one’s (humans & other sentient beings) own self and conduct.

The capacity to use that power affects its possession and therefore its existence for any being, separately and apart from that being’s involvements with other beings.

The variances in that capacity may be physical, issues of maturation, mental (and arguably others).

We observe in nature, as well as in human relations, impacts on the formations and exercises of those capacities.

From that view, it may be easier to understand how ALL "RIGHTS" REQUIRE CONCOMMITANT OBLIGATIONS, BUT THAT ALL OBLIGATIONS DO NOT GIVE RISE TO RIGHTS.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 01, 2015 at 10:15:24 am

[…] Wrong About Rights […]

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Wheeler of Fortune - Freedom's Floodgates
on June 01, 2015 at 10:46:15 am

Other commentors decry the ambiguity in the concept of “rights.” Does a rabbit have a right to life that cannot be deprived except by due process? If so, what to say about the hawk that kills the rabbit? What to say about the chemicals that kill the mosquitos? Or that kill bacteria or viruses?

It’s simple to identify conundrums in the application of rights to non-humans. But that’s hardly surprising, since I detect much ambiguity in how to apply rights to humans – and we’ve had centuries trying to get that right.

I sense that “rights,” reflect society’s wealth. Thus, while libertarians might like to imagine that rights are this fixed, immutable phenomenon, it surely cannot escape their notice that ranks of libertarians grow in proportion to the wealth of the nation in which they live.

How much effort should government expend to secure the autonomy rights of blacks? True, we had a quite expensive spasm of investment called the Civil War and Reconstruction – although the motives for the Civil War were vast and varied – before regressing to a much smaller sum for a century or so. But as society has grown wealthier, we’ve invested more.

How much to defend free speech rights? Pretty much all the caselaw arises from WWI and thereafter.

How much for the autonomy rights of religious minorities?

Autonomy rights of women? We’ve gradually come to ban sex discrimination in the workplace, and to define that discrimination more broadly, and we’ve grown wealthier.

Autonomy rights of children? We see ever more prosecutions of sex abuse of minors. Do we imagine that prior to these prosecutions, there was no sex abuse of minors – or that we simply declined to regard it as the kind of thing we wanted to devote resources to?

Autonomy rights of the disabled? Of gays? Of the transgendered? Etc., etc.

So I see nothing especially odd that people, especially young people, would be prepared to extend rights to non-humans. The concept is vague, and the impulse is compassionate.

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nobody.really
on June 01, 2015 at 11:58:49 am

"... students possess a confused understanding of just what a right is"

Indeed, they, and WE do, if we fail to recognize that it is in the nature (or act) of UNDERSTANDING, the rational capacity of humans to understand their own selves (faulty as it may be) that we find the basis for what we call rights or dignity. It is also in the human ability to discriminate, to apprehend and comprehend the difference between oneself and others that impels the *natural* drive toward "rights" and dignity. Those of us who have raised children need only look back to the *wondrous* time of the "Terrible Two's" when children begin to say "NO" - simply put, they are defining their place, their boundaries; and are creating a self.

What remains for the child (as for the man in civil society) is to later comprehend the *obligations* incumbent upon him / her. Can it be said that my little (and adorable, if garden destroying) Chocolate Labrador enjoys or exercises such a level of understanding and / or abstraction. Without such understanding / w/o the capacity for abstract reasoning, I would submit that rights are not possessed - NOR are they even considered.

Yes, it is true that the proper *exercise* of rights require some governmental structure or mechanism(s) for full fruition (or near fruition) and as Nobody argues, various factors, including wealth, contribute to the level (aspirational motivation) of such exercise. There is no denying that - yet, I would submit that even without government, Man, as a function of human consciousness, has *rights* - not so, my poor little Maddie.

How I treat her is an indication of what sort of human being I am. As R. Richard says, I may have an obligation to treat her kindly (even when she digs up my tree-roses), but this does not confer any rights upon her.

To erase the distinction between rational and non-rational (putatively, yes) beings would or could compel us to do as Nobody suggests - "extend rights to non-humans."

"The concept is vague, and the impulse is compassionate" - Nobody is correct in assessing the current milieu; however, this is clearly wrong as it fails to distinguish between rational / dignity possessing (creating) individuals and other beings not in possession of such attributes.

(BTW: How about all those tasty little meat dishes, I have been enjoying since the Truman Administration - am I to give them up - Ha!).

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gabe
on June 01, 2015 at 14:04:33 pm

Does the concept of "rights" equate with the concept of "dignity?"

I am comfortable asserting that some rights exist to protect individual dignity. But is that true of all of them?

Whether or not all rights exist to protect dignity, it is still the case that the two words point to two different things. Dignity is a property of individuals, that sometimes is protected by rights. But rights point to a relationship between and individual and government. Thus, it is not correct to think of rights as inhering in individuals--rights inhere in relationships between individuals.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on June 01, 2015 at 14:16:57 pm

Richard--

Granted that yours was a repost, but still, it is not the case that no one in this conversation has offered a definition of rights. The first half of my first post, above, consists precisely of that. Moreover, the definition I offer above is very conventional. Here, in more philosophically technical language, is the definition from the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy:

"Rights are entitlements (not) to perform certain actions, or (not) to be in certain states; or entitlements that others (not) perform certain actions or (not) be in certain states."

This is a better definition than the one I offered, but I would hope the similarities are obvious.

The key thing to observe here is that rights are not powers possessed by individuals over their own conduct. While the definition above does not state this explicitly, government is implicit in this understanding of what rights are. Rights are about what individuals can expect from government, either in a negative or a positive sense.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on June 01, 2015 at 14:36:56 pm

Kevin,

"Thus, it is not correct to think of rights as inhering in individuals–rights inhere in relationships between individuals."

Not simply to quibble, but perhaps the use of "inhere" may not convey the full intent of that thought. The first part of the statement, as stated, is defendable; but the latter half seems to take us, not to a conclusion,
but to a further question of "why" or "how."

Perhaps the intent is to state that rights exist ONLY in the terms and conditions of relationships; or (shorthand) only in a social context. That can be defended, but it does not answer what that "existence" IS in the relationship or context.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 01, 2015 at 14:47:50 pm

Richard--

Much agreement. I particularly like your restatement (and extension) of my thought--nicely put. "Social context" is better than the word I used, "government," although I think as a practical matter government is probably correct.

Thanks!

All best,
Kevin

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on June 01, 2015 at 14:50:34 pm

Kevin,

At the time of my reposting, your initial comment had not appeared.
So, I will give more thought yours above for further comment in reply.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 01, 2015 at 16:26:04 pm

Kevin,

I fear I totally misread the purport of your first comment here.
Initially, it seemed to me you were reciting the confusions of those cited as to an understanding of, or forming a concept of, rights.

Apparently you were not; and I now take it you are presenting assertions (e.g., " All rights take their meaning in relationship to government. So in the absence of government, there are no rights."). That seemed such an unusually limited "relational" aspect (upon which you expand by examples of governmental-individual relationships) for someone of your scholarship and learning.

However, your examples to provide the intent of your meaning are more useful than the circularity of Stanford's "Rights are entitlements . . . " once we examine "entitlements." But, on closer observance, if we substitute "powers" for "entitlements," we may come to something more generally understood.
I would suggest that the use of "states" by Stanford intends "conditions," not governments.

One is moved to ask, do we have powers (by the nature of our being) over our own conduct; if so, what is the nature of their exercise? Do others have powers over our conduct, if so what is the nature of those conditions; for others, for us? (entitlements?)

As to the ethicists, the response is that obligations (the basis of morality) DO "inhere" (are innate) in individuals and those obligations moderate or exaggerate the powers of individuals in their relations with other humans, other beings and their surroundings. The failures of those modulations are the stuff of the History of Mankind. Ethics involve the choices of means of performing or avoiding obligations ("moral conduct"); not their existence vel non..

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 01, 2015 at 17:06:06 pm

Yes. social context is a more apt term and it does help to illuminate "rights" as existing with such a context.
However, these rights may be presented, or present themselves, or be expanded or delineated with such a context, it still avoids:

a) Dalrymple's essay on whether animals have rights. According to Kevin's original post, it would seem that animal rights simply await award from some Court as rights are granted by the state or social context. I believe that this is incomplete as it limits rights to only the particularities attendant upon certain social (state?) conventions. What the (Lord) State gives, the (Lord) State may taketh away. Rather precarious predicate with either *giver*, I would say.

b) Whether or not any rights are antecedent to civil association. A case may be made that with civil association we are simply accepting some measure of obligation in order to more freely exercise certain volitional rights w/o undue fear of violence. The question remains, do we possess any "rights" by virtue of our own consciousness / rationality as opposed to some other lower order of being?

One need not look to Revelation or even philosophy for this answer - one need only look to ourselves, to our "Nature."

Thus, a workingman's conception of Natural Rights!

BTW: As my dog has not read Locke and her only apparent obligation is to be fed, I suspect that she does not qualify for a grant of rights.

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gabe
on June 01, 2015 at 17:23:38 pm

To Gabe,

"The question remains, do we possess any “rights” by virtue of our own consciousness / rationality as opposed to some other lower order of being?"

Does not the answer lie in the powers we have of our motivations?

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 01, 2015 at 18:32:03 pm

The problem submitted here, is an act of conundrum. What people confuse as "rights" in this context, are not "rights" within a legal definition, but rather, are minimum provisions of "welfare" instituted by the government, usually within the context of criminal law. But, because animals have long been considered "property", we are confronted with the fact that the due process clauses of constitution, which make direct reference to the government's deprivation of a citizen's property, attach to any law dealing with the area of animals.

The general philosophy used in this area of law in the U.S. has been basically two pronged: First, the legislation must be of narrow construction that suits nothing more than the government's interest in the matter, and secondly, the legislation must support the end of a "compelling" state interest. (this was why the court, in Lawrence V. State of Texas, et al. would have wished the plaintiff's in that case call into issue in the early appellate proceedings the issue of the lack of a required search warrant, among other technical causes of action, which would have given the Supreme Court the ground to reverse and remand the case for what would have been a dismissal, without having to delve into the issues that were presented in the prior case Bowers V. Hardwick, Which Lawrence overruled- as the court wasn't ready at the time to entertain overruling Hardwick, Noting that counsel in Lawrence was quick not to fall into the government's trap!)

The problem I see with the concept of animal "rights" is what do these protections afford to society that isn't based within the sphere of morality, which the courts historically are reluctant, at best, to codify into legislation, due to the fact that morality runs dangerously close to the anti-establishment clause of the constitution (pertaining to religion.) ;yet the courts have allowed these types of laws to stand on the books based upon this type of construction (i.e. that the "moral" treatment of animals is a compelling government interest that tramples under foot the grave warnings the constitution has with respect to the government infringing on property) ?

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John Doe
on June 01, 2015 at 21:08:23 pm

Richard--

That makes perfect sense . . .

All best,
Kevin

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on June 01, 2015 at 21:44:28 pm

J.D.,

" ... courts have allowed these types of laws to stand on the books based upon this type of construction (i.e. that the “moral” treatment of animals is a *compelling government interest* that tramples under foot the grave warnings the constitution has with respect to the government infringing on property)"

Another way to consider the "Judicial" aspects:

Despite dicta (and some dogma) governments, qua governments (mechanisms), do NOT have *interests,* compelling or otherwise. Whilst such possessors may include people who administer governments or use its facilities, only people have interests (other sentient beings and elements of nature may have matters of their concerns). The dicta are pure "cover" for the realities and the acceptance of adjudications.

Critical analysis will probably support, or certainly include, that "Justice" is the performance of obligations. A particular function, once the predominant function, of our judicial system has been the identification, delineation, reconciliation (including enforcement) of obligations (especially in the contexts of relationships) recognized and accepted (with sufficient commonality) within our social order.

Amongst those obligations so found by adjudication, whose commonality is often evidenced, though not exclusively, by legislation, are constraints on conduct in particular relationships (e.g., adults with children; humans with animals, etc.). courts, so finding, move to enforce obligations because performance is necessary to Justice, the function of Courts of Law.

It is true that many commonalities in recognition and acceptance of many obligations involve the shared sense of "oughtness" of a social grouping, lending them the tone of morality for that grouping (which might not apply in the case of some other grouping). As Justice in Thebes is not Justice in Athens; Morality in Sparta is not Morality in Athens.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 02, 2015 at 04:13:37 am

In all these efforts to define rights, one might observe that it is man, through government, who is giving rights to himself. Contrast this to the founding fathers of the U.S., who perhaps felt that a naked assertion of their rights was insufficient without an appeal to those rights as God-given.

I don't think it is a mere rhetorical flourish that they expressed it this way; there is something about the reference to man's maker which renders his rights much easier to differentiate from the mass of stuff that man simply wants rather than deserves. It is a reference to his anthropology, his essence which makes listing his rights an exercise in outlining the essential conditions any man may demand. Finally, it takes government out of the primary role of rights-provider, and instead expresses rights as the flip side of inter-personal duties: do not steal, do not lie, do not commit murder...

I believe it is also the case that it is only by reference to Man's maker that we can define Man's duty toward animals, who were put here for Man's use.

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Mr. Lynch
on June 02, 2015 at 10:54:16 am

Mr. Lynch,

You come very close to consolidating the concepts taken up here.

So, from exposure to a Swiss, Anabaptist, background, the similar comparison is that of "Stewardship." "Duty" is a form of obligation. How the duty of stewardship arises and is performed has been of long theological concern and study.

Still, the case is made that men ("made male and female") are stewards of their own capacities and for their own "deficiencies," amongst their duties to the other elements of "creation."

A stronger argument can be made that man, through individual, personal, recognition, acceptance and performance of obligations, rather than through constructs such as governments (or religious dogmas) does not "give himself" powers over his capacities and motivations, but *finds* those powers and their purposes, exercised as "rights," in performance of obligations.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 03, 2015 at 00:29:06 am

I would comment here that manner in which I construe "compelling Interest of the government" is a quote from j. Ginsburg (if my mind serves me correctly, it may have been j. O'Connor.) in two separate veins of case law, The most notable and widely known being Lawrence et al. V. State of Texas, and the second, somewhat more obscure to most of us, was in dealing with the treatment of child pornography within the context of first-amendment law. What the court was getting at in both veins was the concept that, though a constitutional right may exist, it is not absolute (a view I personally disagree with, due to the ability of the government to manipulate the law. I don't believe in giving the government any wiggle room in matters of semantics and construction.) The courts middle-ground attempt to protect both interests (The governments interest in exercising its constitutional "police" power, etc. Vs. the citizens interests- namely the bill of rights) was to provide the litmus text of narrow construction to meet the intended ends.

In the sense you use the word "obligation", the term seems to me to indicate either an implicit or explicit contract. We must remember that the right to enter into a contract is regulated to a degree or another, though the courts are hesitant to allow the government to interfere with explicit contracts. (i.e. written contracts under formal contract law), but rather did allow the government to more closely regulate implicit contracts, in a manner (that the government thinks, anyways) is representative of a class of people in a particular context. (i.e. statutory rape rests on the theory that a minor cannot enter into a contract, due to an "immature" intellect as to understanding the nature and consequences of a contract, regardless of whether or not the contract is revocable without cause. Note that I would define manipulation of a person into entering the contract more within the theory of "rape by fraud", a relatively new legal construction and doctrine.)

This would be opposed to legislating 'morality'- that is, legislating the majority opinion, without careful analysis into the potential ramifications of such legislation, particularly with relation to the separation clause. (i.e. passing a law simply because its the "Christian" thing to do, etc.)

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John Doe
on June 03, 2015 at 12:37:27 pm

J.D.,

You are entirely logical in "construing" that judicial "construction" designated as "a compelling interest **OF** the State." Construing it does not alter the fact that the concept is a "judicial construct."

Implicit, and seemingly essential to some of the points you make, is the characterization of "Government." It seems it must be accepted as reified; it lives, breathes, has motives, objectives - a persona. It is, in fact, a mechanism, employed by human beings (living, breathing, motivated, object seeking, in that employment).

I may misunderstand your use of "constitutional right," But there is no such thing (except as "shorthand"). The Constitution recognizes and states the limitations on the uses of the mechanisms of the Federal government that may impair rights. That same Constitution does *not* provide that government with "police powers," which reside in the several states.

Perhaps a clue to the concepts that seem to underlie some of your points is seen in the last words: ". . . to meet the intended ends." Intended by, selected by, determined by - whom? And, what are they?

The subject of obligations is extensive. In the reply to your first post there were the examples of obligations of adults in their dealings with children or with animals (not exactly "contractual," but socially "fixed"). Obligations include commitments (the area of contracts); responsibilities (arising in relationships); duties (some motivational, some deontological - and others). It is a "catch-all" word. But, you are quite right to observe that one may have a contractual "right" that necessarily requires the obligation of others. That was not my point.

In using "contract," your statutory rape example comes up short. It is a constraint on conduct, as are "laws" (statutes) concerning incest and misogyny. They have to do with what a social order (at a given time) considers "ought not be." Within our social systems we do establish legislated obligations. Other obligations, without legislation, also are established by custom (usually from experience). Some constrain conduct; some call for active conduct.

It bears repeating here: All rights involve and require commutative, correlated obligations; but, all obligations do not involve the creation or existence of rights.

As noted before, the courts of "our" legal systems (for over 500 years) have been predominately concerned with obligations. The attempts to justify (cover for) governmental intrusions and power by implying "obligations" to defer to its "interests," has been a monumental falsification of function.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on June 04, 2015 at 00:41:37 am

Thank you, Mr. S, for your thoughtful response. While I agree with nearly everything you say, a couple of thoughts come to mind:

* I was thinking that I was not *consolidating* the other opinions but marking out what I thought was a different argument altogether: that if we are to avoid falling into the jaws of the Positivists (both the Legal and Logical kinds), it seems to me inevitable that a Creator be referenced (as the Founders did) in the Declaration).

* it is quite true that by defining duties, we define rights, and in a way that ennobles the person performing the duty, if those duties are embraced as ennobling values. So far, so good, and very useful. But because I'm concerned with the situations in which people see no other duty than to obey the law, and because the law and interpretation are malleable things, I want to come at it from the other direction, as well: the rights that are being violated in putative victims, and, in particular, *where they get those rights from*. When you put people like this in a position where they can define the law, let the weak beware! At times like this, I want to invoke the rights of the weak and define them in a way that precedes and is above all man-made law. I'd be happy for someone more knowledgeable about the Nuremburg trials to correct me, but it seems to me that the Allied powers did exactly this when they claimed the moral authority to prosecute Nazis for war crimes. They may have occasionally appealed to international law or treaty law, but my perception is that they depended heavily on Judeo-Christian morality. I'm sure the victors at the time felt (as I do, decades later), that we had the authority to try them not from the position as victors under a might-makes-right argument, but from the unassailable position of applying a law which comes from above.

I know this line of argument will trouble people, as it should. After all, it's easy to imagine an appeal to Divine Law coming out of the mouths of the Iranian mullahs as they nuke Tel Aviv. This is probably why people instinctively shrink from making it on behalf of Western values. But while that tactic inoculates us (rhetorically speaking) from being accused under harsh Islamic-style laws, in the final analysis I believe that that reluctance deprives us of any moral authority to do anything about the human rights violations in that country. If we retreat from that theological argument, we have no right to say, for example, "you can't execute people for being homosexual -- it's gravely immoral". I believe this is why, in another example, we in the West could barely muster any indignation for the genocide in Rwanda. And it explains (to me, anyway), why the next genocide, and the next,and the next, will leave millions of people on the sidelines wondering if they have the right to interfere.

Thank you, again, for response. As I said, I think we mostly agree. But as you may have gathered, I have an intense aversion to any kind of legal theory which greases the skids for the strong to abuse the weak, or which disarms those who would fight such abusers.

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Mister Lynch
on June 04, 2015 at 12:05:00 pm

Your reply involves topics so comprehensive and cogitable, that a meaningful response on this site would likely take us "of thread," despite the value of doing so. As before, I offer my Email, [email protected] for contact should you have that interest.

As to "sources" of "laws" it does appear that whatever may be regarded as a, or the, source, whether they are "laws" of natural science or of human relations with one another and their surroundings, they come to mankind through man (male and female).

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R Richard Schweitzer

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