Law & Order: Episode 2

See the first post here.

The previous post finished with a question. I hope to finish this one with an answer. I asked “how do we know what kind of laws are necessary?” and, “can they be prevented from infringing on an individual’s rights?” Since these questions are so large and encompass thousands of years of discussion, and since this thread was created to answer a single web post (also, I consider myself far from being the ideal person to give an authoritative response in this topic), I will digress here to focus on exactly one question:

“Don’t like your rights taken away? Don’t try to take the rights of others.”

Please, please see my first post for context, before reading on. I know you will ignore this but at least my conscience will be clear…. Still haven’t read the first post? Fine then, let’s continue.

We stated in the previous post that no matter how much freedom a state has, it will still have opinions, for laws decidedly tell what is acceptable or not (at least in the civic arena, not necessarily in the moral sense). If a state has opinions, it will decidedly not allow you to hold certain views. This is unescapable.

If a state makes it illegal to steal, it doesn’t matter if your opinion is that stealing is ok. The state’s laws will be enforced on you. If you don’t like it, you cannot belong to that state. But what if you consider stealing to be your “right” as a human being? Well, what does it mean to have “rights?”

It seems to me that rights are proclamations of things that makes us inherently human

Why’s that? Because rights seem to denote privileges. You might say that animals have rights, or even trees have rights. But to say that humans have rights is altogether something above and beyond what we would consider animal rights. A dog does not have freedom of expression. It does not have a right to property, or freedom. It has rights that protect it and keep it alive and well, but the aforementioned human rights are extraneous to the dog. We instead, call them essential to our species.

Think of Thomas Jefferson’s famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Rights are intrinsic values that are essential to humanity. Although you would like a dog very much to have a good life, and see it is good for it to have one, it is not a right to the same degree as a human would demand. Why? Because we have intellects, and the capacity to will. An animal is guided by instinct, but a person can determine him/herself.

The statement at the beginning of this post is true. We cannot take away the rights of others, because they are intrinsic to themselves. But the context in which it is written in mistaken. Rights should help us achieve goodness. Why? Because rights aim to perfect that which is essential to ourselves. We allow a person to have property because that way he can determine himself and his future. We allow people to have food & shelter because man is not a beast and requires suitable housing to live and prosper. We permit life because it has been begotten to us by our Creator and mourn when it is taken away.

Therefore, personal rights direct us to our intrinsic goodness and happiness, but prevent us from achieving it when guised under our own opinions and prejudices 

Although a person is free to eat rotten meat, the good thing to do would be to prevent that person from exercising that right for the purpose of his overall well-being. The person might think it’s a delicacy, and create an opinion page on the New York Times as to the rights of people to eat rotten meat, but the fact is that the law is protecting him, in order for him to continue expressing those rights which he has twisted to his own designs.

We can now both affirm and refute our statement in question. No, we cannot take away the rights of others, but the reason is not because the person has simply said “it’s his right,” but because we can recognize what are the intrinsic values that make him essentially human and thus what is conducive to his flourishing.

Thanks for reading! I have decided to keep this thread, “Law & Order,” as a topic of discussion when it comes to matters of politics and the philosophy of the state. In no way am I attempting to replicate, profit or make use of the name of the actual TV show.



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