August 6, 2014

JK's Theory of the Source of Rights.

I very much enjoyed Helen Raleigh's talk at Liberty on the Rocks - Flatirons a week ago. She was promoting her book: Confucius Never Said.

The title comes from "Confucius Say.." jokes -- but Raleigh reminds us what he did not say: "All Men are Created Equal." The Eastern thought accepted a much more hierarchical and less individualistic existence. Her -- grisly -- tales of Mao's Great Leap Forward, the privations and famine, and the barbaric treatment of her family in her native China are sobering consequences of this omission.

I've railed against the uncritical acceptance of what I call "Eastern Thought:" an admittedly overbroad collection of different and substantive philosophies and religion. But I considered them connected by a shared acceptance of the mystic and spiritual over the rational and the communal over the individual. (In humility I must point out that I could not get the author to assent to a broad condemnation of Confucianism as a foundation of China's historical struggles.)

With that preface, here is my elevator talk for Western Enlightenment values that I have been mulling. Per the objectivist/source of rights discussion below, I offer my own source of rights.

I don't want to be jingoist to my Hemisphere. There has, I purport, only been one good idea in the history of man. It happened to be Western. Flip of the coin: 50% chance. I also don't claim credit because it happened 200+ years ago to those to whom I am unrelated. But the one good idea is "all men are created equal."

From this, I can derive all the Lockean Values: man has a right to life, liberty and property -- not given by God or enforceable by the world, but vis-à-vis other men. I cannot take your sandwich. A bear can still eat you. But you and I, being equal cannot claim another's life, liberty, or property.

From Lockean values, I can derive the full set of Enlightenment values. Free will is based on equality as my thoughts are as valuable as yours. Reason is based on free will; innovation, science, and Popperian epistemology all follow from reason.

Where "all men are created equal" has been applied, pari-passu with the purity of its application, it has produced innovation, affluence, and empowerment of the individual. America became richer when the domain was expanded, China became richer when it was applied even in a limited fashion.

Quod Erat Demonstratum?

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at August 6, 2014 7:02 PM

"Only one good idea in the history of man?" For the argument's sake let's change that to "One idea in the history of man is better than all others." And it is a good idea. One which was more important in an era where men were granted "birthright" power over other men by virtue of the class status of their birth. But the idea has not, it seems to me, well borne the test of time and collectivist assault. You offer a good derivation of individual rights from the inherent equality, before the law, of all men. But the statist and the theist offer conflicting derivations of their own. And how do you reject their claims as less valid than yours? After all, they are rooted in the same fundamental idea and your own philosophy holds that, in the name of equality, your thoughts are as valuable as theirs (and vice versa.)

So I think we now see how it takes more than the ability to derive a theory of rights from an axiomatic principle in order to defend birthright individual liberty. It also requires an axiomatic principle from which liberty's enemies may not also derive a contradictory theory. A theory of community. A theory of divine will. A theory of human slavery.

Biddle names an alternate axiomatic principle in his essay: Man cannot live without thinking and acting rationally or, in the cases where he cannot or will not do so, living parasitically on the rational efforts of others. This axiom is an example of the identity theorem, that a thing is itself and only itself, not more than one thing at the same time. Man is man. A is A.

Admittedly it requires more thought, explanation and understanding to arrive at a principle of rights from this axiom than from "because: Liberty" or even from "all men are created equal." But doing so removes the moral sanction that statists claim as justification for all of their violations of your rights and is therefore a necessary step before mankind may ever reach a truly free and peaceful social order. [This is admittedly my own premise - feel free to challenge it.]

If it will make this easier to explain to others perhaps you might state it in summary as, "All men are created individual." If you can derive your same Lockean values from this it will suit your immediate purposes, while helping thwart the purposes of your philosophic enemies - the ones who ceaselessly claim some right to take rights from you.

Posted by: johngalt at August 7, 2014 1:53 AM

I may have to give you this round and concentrate on Craig Biddle's Libertarian post below. This was its maiden voyage and you have exposed a serious flaw in its "pervertability."

The target demographic of this argument is the Boulderite who believes that the world would be perfect if we followed Eastern wisdom and lived as Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucians and threw out all that wicked Western medicine and just got our Chi and Chakras in order.

I think it retains value for that, but as an overarching system of the source of human rights it needs a little work.

Posted by: jk at August 7, 2014 9:45 AM

Those advocates of Eastern wisdom might be right, if there were no such thing as pirates. (Or Ebola.)

Posted by: johngalt at August 8, 2014 12:24 PM | What do you think? [3]