Wednesday, March 31, 2010

243: on Rights

" i'd rather call this as right than power" was a remark of Kiki Walpanheim in our latest discussion. This remark points at a quintessential issue in political philosophy.

In my latest lecture I already referred to the relation between power and right in the example of the stronger against the weaker.

The stronger TAKES the right to command the weaker by using his physical predominance.

But intuitively you feel that this would puts us in a "homo homini lupus est" situation, "a man is a wolf for his fellowman" - situation, which we'll get explained when we'll discuss Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) soon.

Power and rights are closely related. Maybe we could say that there is no power without rights. That means that we derive power from rights. Or we take rights by using physical power, in fact overpower the weaker.

I suppose that we all have at least that much political insight, that we are prone to say that the later situation, the situation of overpowering the weaker by (physical) force, is the least desirable.

It is all around us. We live in a world with a United Nations, an Amnesty International, a Google that leaves China, because its (alleged) rights to distribute uncensored information is not repected.

And so the picture, with which all political philosophers had and will have to deal, is the observation that power over your fellowmen is derived from rights and that we have to respect and protect these rights. For that purpose we make laws.

in an earlier lecture I quoted Cicero (died 43 BC), who said "True law is right reason in agreement with Nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting … there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens,"

This I think completes our picture. Cicero gives an explanation for how laws protect our rights. it adds the final piece to the puzzle: the human being is obliged to obey the law. Here we are faced with the moral duty to do so.

Thus we arrive at the point that political philosophy is not primarily about power, which a man like Machiavelli might have thought, but mainly a matter of rights and Cicero already shows us where to find the source of these rights:

The combination of Reason and Nature, our reason as means to understand Nature. In the period before Machiavelli, there was a conviction that there was an external creator of nature and its order.

The human being lives in accordance with the natural law, which is known by using our reason. Because with Machiavelli we have arrived at a moment in history that beliefs shift from a creating God to a scientific explanation, all kinds of new questions emerge.

Wikipedia defines natural law thus: "Natural law or the law of nature (Latin: lex naturalis) is a theory that posits the existence of a law whose content is set by nature and that therefore has validity everywhere.

The phrase natural law is opposed to the positive law (which is man-made) of a given political community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to criticize that law."

Does such a natural law really exist? Where does it come from and how can we know it? Natural law implies and protects natural rights. Which rights?

What to do with people who break the law? Do we have a right to punish these people? Do we have a right to chop of a hand, when someone steals?

Fortunately we still have some centuries to go and we may hope that the political philosophers we will meet,will come up up with some good answers.

Fascinating perspective…. ^_^

The Discussion

[13:17] herman Bergson: Our next stop is Thomas Hobbes
[13:18] herman Bergson: You have the right to ask questions and make remarks now ^_^
[13:18] Zinzi Serevi: can you give one example of a natural law?
[13:18] Zinzi's translator: can you give one example of a natural law?
[13:18] herman Bergson: well.... the right to your own life
[13:19] herman Bergson: the right to the integrity of your own body
[13:19] herman Bergson: the right to property
[13:19] Zinzi Serevi: ok
[13:19] Zinzi Serevi: thanks
[13:19] Kiki Walpanheim: ((thanks for the quote))
[13:19] herman Bergson: the right to free speech
[13:19] herman Bergson: cute wasnt it Kiki ^_^
[13:19] Kiki Walpanheim: ;-)
[13:19] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:20] herman Bergson: these could be regarded as natural rights
[13:20] herman Bergson: in contrast with positive law...which means that man creates rights by law...
[13:20] herman Bergson: for instance the right on Health Care ....
[13:21] Kiki Walpanheim: i think men are born with empathy as well as selfishness(or rather, self-interest/ greed, depending on how we call it)
[13:21] Liza Deischer: it sounds like the natural rights apply more to constitutional rights
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:22] herman Bergson: Yes Liza..of course...
[13:22] herman Bergson: And Kiki...
[13:22] herman Bergson: that will be the issue to deal with by our political philosophers...
[13:22] Kiki Walpanheim: so perhaps natural law means sth. accomodating them? like acknowledging selfishness, or self interest
[13:22] Kiki Walpanheim: rather than surpressing them
[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: oh i am not sure of that
[13:23] herman Bergson: comes in to play the idea of virtue!
[13:23] Kiki Walpanheim: like , free market , takes advantage of self interest, or rather , greed
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: i think by natural law we are bound to respect the rights of others
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: because they are natural
[13:23] herman Bergson: In a way the moral obligation of the human being to excel, not to be selfish but social
[13:24] herman Bergson: Well Gemma...there are those who will claim that these natural laws are products of our imagination
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: lol ok
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: i know
[13:25] herman Bergson: yes...philosophers, know the breed
[13:25] Liza Deischer: yes you can ask yourself the question what is so natural about the respect of the rights of others
[13:25] herman Bergson: Well market is not just about plain greed
[13:26] Kiki Walpanheim: not to be selfish but social?....depending on how we call them.... the right on health care is more of the social aspect, as i see it
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes Liza..the fundamental ethical question
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: don't think we know enough about "nature" to what is and isn't a natural law
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: sheesh
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: to know what is and isn't a natural law
[13:26] Kiki Walpanheim: nods at herman, yes free market is more than that, but self-interest is one of the issue
[13:26] herman Bergson: Hi Repose...good remark...yes that IS a question too
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: Hi Prof ㋡
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: some thought it unnatural for women to vote
[13:27] herman Bergson: Well Kiki..Hobbes can be an interesting fellow in this context then ㋡
[13:27] Gemma Cleanslate: and had a right to own slaves
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: their "natural" superiority
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: refuge of scoundrels
[13:28] Repose Lionheart: moral scoundrels ㋡
[13:28] Kiki Walpanheim: ((would look it up))
[13:28] herman Bergson: What are you referring too Repose?
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: the tendency of people to write their own bigotry into the laws of nature
[13:29] herman Bergson: so..selfishness
[13:29] herman Bergson: ?
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: bias
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: foolishishness
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: hatred
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: bad stuff
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: ignorance
[13:30] Kiki Walpanheim: and also, are the rights accommodating natural laws, negative rights, or positive ones
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: sorry i missed the lecture -- may be a bit off point
[13:30] herman Bergson: Well...that will be a major point for the coming lectures and political philosophers
[13:30] Kiki Walpanheim: nods
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: and has been with us from the beginning of humankind
[13:30] Kiki Walpanheim: would be interesting
[13:31] herman Bergson: Yes ..we HAVE to deal with these question....
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:31] herman Bergson: does natural law exist?
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: oh dear
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: hmmm...
[13:31] herman Bergson: and if so..what is can we KNOW it?
[13:31] herman Bergson: and what when we break natural laws???
[13:32] herman Bergson: and if it doesnt exist...where are we then???
[13:32] Kiki Walpanheim: negative rights sometimes is nothingness for men, and positive rights entail that other ppl have obligations to aid those in need with coersion of law
[13:32] herman Bergson: Really...and exciting landscape of fundamental questions
[13:32] Kiki Walpanheim: *coercion
[13:33] herman Bergson: a c or an s....I dont know kiki ㋡
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: ;-) seems to be a c
[13:34] herman Bergson: We have 600 years to go....still
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:34] herman Bergson: there must be at least one with a good idea ^_^
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim: as back to the issue of "right to health care"
[13:34] herman Bergson: yes Kiki
[13:34] herman Bergson: amazing story how the US deals with that
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: ridiculous
[13:34] herman Bergson: from a European point of view of course
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: from a humane point of view, too, I think
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: we are so antiquated in health care
[13:35] herman Bergson: so anti - social
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:35] herman Bergson: so expressively AGAINST sharing
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: not in the care but in providing it
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:36] herman Bergson: responsability
[13:37] herman Bergson: In a world like ours you cant uphold the idea...let every one take care of himself
[13:37] Kiki Walpanheim: sharing sure is justified with consent, but how about imposed one with coercion of law
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: there are still those who believe it tho
[13:37] herman Bergson: oh...another issue of course..liberalism
[13:37] Liza Deischer: well, it seems that that is where we are going back to
[13:38] Liza Deischer: everybody taking care of oneself
[13:38] herman Bergson: Well Kiki...we are already very well used to that for centuries....taxes was one of the greatest inventions of all times
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim nods... maybe the crux is how much ppl can be taxed justly
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: well depends on the services provided
[13:39] herman Bergson: that has been the core of all political debate through the centuries too ㋡
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim nods
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: a question of economic efficiency in the level of taxation too
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: oh well
[13:40] herman Bergson: and in that sense I am not so much in sympathy with US Republicans ㋡
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: no
[13:40] Abraxas Nagy: neither am I
[13:40] herman Bergson: Yes REpsoe...very good
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: it is a non-moral good though -- efficiency
[13:40] Abraxas Nagy: but there's not to much difference tho
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: me either lol
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: Europe has opted for the greater moral good of helping people
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: what did i hear it called
[13:41] herman Bergson: Europe isnt a saint
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: while sacrificing some bit of effiency economically
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: nope
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: natural law---efficiency----what makes a law justified
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: codependency something
[13:41] Liza Deischer: and Europe going back in time
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: or perhaps natural law helps with efficiency too?
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: maybe
[13:42] Abraxas Nagy: natural law = survival of the fittest
[13:42] herman Bergson: The laws are basic helping the weaker might be one of them
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim nods at herman
[13:42] herman Bergson: no Abraxas.. I dont agree
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: well how is it not?
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: or, natural law = survival of the kindest, who can cooperate in social groups
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: same effect
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: only in cooperation
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:43] herman Bergson: a social being you also could help the less fitted to survive...or should we kill all our handicaped people
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: agree
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: i think as soon as groups are formed they begin to cooperate to keep peace and prosperity
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: among the group
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:44] herman Bergson: exactly what..kill them?
[13:44] Kiki Walpanheim: or we dont kill the handicapped but leave them be and let them rot naturally?
[13:44] Liza Deischer: good point gemma
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: noooo
[13:44] herman Bergson: lol
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: but then along comes another group
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: we take care of them
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: not in agreement
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: and here we to
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: go
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes good point is about interests
[13:45] herman Bergson: the balance of interests
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: ah yes good point iondeed
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: survival of the fittest again
[13:45] Repose Lionheart: yep
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: as groups
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: and so the war begins
[13:45] Liza Deischer: :-)
[13:45] Kiki Walpanheim: leave the handicapped be and let them rot --- is back to the issue-right to health care.......
[13:45] herman Bergson: I dont agree with putting it in an evolutionary context Abraxas...
[13:46] Abraxas Nagy: mmmm war can have many ignitions
[13:46] Kiki Walpanheim: tho i dont think it is a good idea to force ppl to share
[13:46] Abraxas Nagy: how to say
[13:46] Abraxas Nagy: ah but sharing would be natural
[13:46] herman Bergson: I think it is one of our human qualities that we share, survive together...the weaker and the stronger
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: yes i agree
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: true, if sharing were natural, why not a law to share ㋡
[13:47] herman Bergson: In evolution the 'fittest' means 'best adapted to its environment'
[13:47] Abraxas Nagy: the idea of having more than the other is an illusion brought to you by commerce
[13:47] herman Bergson: but that is not a social feature of behavior
[13:47] Liza Deischer: I wouldn't be surprised if the weakest are the best adapted
[13:48] Liza Deischer: need to adapt in order to survive
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: pretty sturdy illusion...
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: hmm
[13:48] herman Bergson: Well in a way your words make sense Liza...if I see homeless people living for years in the streets....
[13:48] Abraxas Nagy: ah yes
[13:49] Liza Deischer: well, I think there is something between the weakest and the strongest
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: on the streets survival is back
[13:49] Liza Deischer: I think those are the most adapted
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: you cant survive if you dont adapt
[13:49] herman Bergson: adapted to what?
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: the streets in this case
[13:50] Liza Deischer: the strongest will try to make there own laws
[13:50] herman Bergson: to the not sharing of others?
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: your immediate environment? Your true nature?
[13:50] Liza Deischer: who can't do that will adapt
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: maybe the art is about balance between our self interest part and social part
[13:50] Abraxas Nagy: ah yes good point
[13:50] herman Bergson: Very true Kiki
[13:50] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:51] herman Bergson: That is what all philosophy is about in these matters
[13:51] Kiki Walpanheim: I see.
[13:51] herman Bergson: This was a great discussion....!
[13:51] Abraxas Nagy: it sure was
[13:51] herman Bergson: May I thank you all
[13:51] Repose Lionheart: yep!
[13:52] Sartre Placebo: thx herman
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: Thank you herman
[13:52] Qwark Allen: ty heerman
[13:52] Sartre Placebo: thx all
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:52] Abraxas Nagy: thank YOU herman
[13:52] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ^_^
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: and thx all
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thursday
[13:52] Abraxas Nagy: wow time went so fast
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: yes lol
[13:52] herman Bergson: Thomas Hobbes will be our guest on Thursday
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:52] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:53] Qwark Allen: nice
[13:53] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: Mhh *Kiss* Bye bye!
[13:53] Sartre Placebo: don´t you think he might be a bit smelly ?

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