Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

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Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on November 29th, 2016, 9:53 am 

I'd like to present an argument I call the argument from novelty:

People require rights because they have novel experiences. Their potential to perceive and feel is worthy of our acknowledgement and respect totally regardless of evolution and society. The mere fact of a being with this kind of capacity to think and feel experiencing infringements upon his/her rights is objectionable, because the experiences of said being are an end unto itself.

How can I qualify that last statement? Well, the philosophers of the Enlightenment specifically used verbiage like "inalienable" because no matter the rationalizations we entertain when usurping someone's rights, we are utterly beholden to delusions if we mentally alienate people to the point that we can't recognize them as thinking, feeling beings. We are naturally bound by the engrossing novelty of our perceptions to value our own existence beyond merely living and propagating the species, and we know that other people are also inherently the same in this respect.

Other people matter because it is in our nature to know that we matter, and they are of a kind with us.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby lichen on November 29th, 2016, 11:01 am 

To which rights are you referring? There are many candidates for "human rights".

When you say, "exist", what do you mean?

There are a variety of possible "rights" which serve well as general starting points for a system of law which protects individuals from various threats that would otherwise leave them vulnerable to the whims of the state. If recognition by law counts as existence, then the answer would appear to just be "yes". But I guess that's not what you mean.

If you want to argue that these rights are integral to the nature of the universe, or are recognized by a creator or spirit or other extra-human or extra-material agency, then I would say "no", they don't exist, because said extra-material agent does not exist to recognize said rights.

If you want to argue that these rights are integral to human nature, being encoded to some degree in our DNA, then I would say "maybe" or "sort of". As an aspect of human social behaviour, they exist conditionally in some people, but not all, and not all the time, and not for all other humans.

As a means of finding clarity, I recommend distinguishing, in all such considerations, between descriptive and prescriptive points of view. We start by describing things, consider them in the context of our needs and desires, and then prescribe some action which works towards satisfying those needs and desires.

In this case, you can observe that people have value, to you, because they share what you call "potential to perceive and feel", "capacity to think and feel", and, specifically, that these experiences are "novel". I might take issue with that, depending on the kind of novelty, but we can lay that aside.

"we are utterly beholden to delusions if we mentally alienate people to the point that we can't recognize them as thinking, feeling beings" — I think that statement deserves some clarification. Others could argue that all of our experiences of life are a delusion, that consciousness itself is an illusion. It could be argued that the willingness to see agency in others is a delusion, or that agency itself is an illusion. At best, it is an assumption, a generalization made from specific experiences which give us a high degree of confidence that others have agency and awareness, even though we can never know with certainty. But it's a useful assumption, I'll grant you that.

"We are naturally bound by the engrossing novelty of our perceptions to value our own existence beyond merely living and propagating the species" — "perceptions" might not be the best word here, but I get what you are saying. You don't simply mean "sensory perception", but the interpretation and awareness of those sensations.

I personally don't see the need to gussy up the inference of general agency in human beings with pseudo-spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, mysticism, or false certainty. People should learn to be comfortable with some uncertainty about the place of minds in the universe.

Most of us are only unique in the way snowflakes and fingerprints are unique: different, but not special. Any individual may, of course, transcend mere human individuality. But it could be argued that this follows a statistical function: given enough humans, some percentage will distinguish themselves enough to make a significant impact beyond their own immediate surroundings. If an Einstein is killed prematurely, surely another will be along eventually. Likewise a Stalin.

The best (selfish) argument I can see for protecting, preserving and tending to human minds is that it multiplies potential. And given a healthy environment, a creative genius may be more likely to develop than a psychopath. But the bell curve will probably still apply. Most people will never have a truly unique idea, one that changes our understanding of the universe. But as long as we can afford it, as a species, we should give as many people as possible the chance to contribute what they can. The alternative, culling people aggressively like weeds in a garden, is probably needless cruelty.

It comes down to economics, to some degree. Society can afford only so much leisure, and most people will spend their leisure time indulging in simple, self-serving pleasures, or trying to increase their meagre share of power, not trying to improve their understanding of the universe.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Serpent on November 29th, 2016, 11:53 am 

Scruffy Nerf Herder » November 29th, 2016, 8:53 am wrote:People require rights because they have novel experiences.

They don't, you know. We all have pretty much the same mundane experiences with minor variations. And only because this is so can we conceive of human rights at all. If we were each unique, we would each need a different set of privileges, rather than a single set of rights.
Their potential to perceive and feel is worthy of our acknowledgement and respect totally regardless of evolution and society.

If it's regardless of society, by whom are these rights being respected? By whom are they defined? For what purpose are they needed? By whom, and in what way, would the rights be infringed?

("inalienable" doesn't mean the other people are not strangers, it just means basic rights can't be taken away. But, of course, that's only a principle, not a fact. Rights can be taken away, and very often are taken away, for a variety of reasons, by a variety of powers.)
Other people matter because it is in our nature to know that we matter, and they are of a kind with us.

That is society. That, plus: We can't survive alone.
So the idea of rights [also limits, responsibilities, duties, prerogatives, exemptions, penalties, protocols, mores and status] is part of organizing a society that doesn't tear itself apart in interpersonal competition and conflict.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 1st, 2016, 2:11 am 



lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:To which rights are you referring? There are many candidates for "human rights".


None in particular. I am arguing for humans as being in a general class, one which can be said to require considerations, on account of the novelty of their experiences.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:When you say, "exist", what do you mean?


I mean whether or not they "exist" is a question of whether or not we are beholden to recognize them, when asking ourselves: what is in the nature of a person?

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:If you want to argue that these rights are integral to the nature of the universe, or are recognized by a creator or spirit or other extra-human or extra-material agency, then I would say "no", they don't exist, because said extra-material agent does not exist to recognize said rights.


My argument is experiential. That we experience novelty is grounds enough for it's existence, totally aside from quibbling about naturalism, possible transcendental faculties, etc.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:If you want to argue that these rights are integral to human nature, being encoded to some degree in our DNA, then I would say "maybe" or "sort of". As an aspect of human social behaviour, they exist conditionally in some people, but not all, and not all the time, and not for all other humans.


I am appealing to an aspect of our psyche, without trying to occasion any other controversies over philosophy of mind, social behavior, or anything else of the kind. If we experience novelty and others are of a kind with us, then it is illogical for us to value that novelty in ourselves and yet not ascribe such value to another person's novelty in consonance with our own admitted habit.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:As a means of finding clarity, I recommend distinguishing, in all such considerations, between descriptive and prescriptive points of view. We start by describing things, consider them in the context of our needs and desires, and then prescribe some action which works towards satisfying those needs and desires.


We are on the same page here. Actually, appealing to a certain link between the descriptive and prescriptive points of view is the real thrust of my argument.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:"we are utterly beholden to delusions if we mentally alienate people to the point that we can't recognize them as thinking, feeling beings" — I think that statement deserves some clarification. Others could argue that all of our experiences of life are a delusion, that consciousness itself is an illusion. It could be argued that the willingness to see agency in others is a delusion, or that agency itself is an illusion. At best, it is an assumption, a generalization made from specific experiences which give us a high degree of confidence that others have agency and awareness, even though we can never know with certainty. But it's a useful assumption, I'll grant you that.


Well, given that we are in an ethics discussion, I find it reasonable to assume in the universe of discourse that other people exist and they are of a kind with us. If you want to take issue with the UOD, go ahead.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:"We are naturally bound by the engrossing novelty of our perceptions to value our own existence beyond merely living and propagating the species" — "perceptions" might not be the best word here, but I get what you are saying. You don't simply mean "sensory perception", but the interpretation and awareness of those sensations.


Right. There are times when it's easier to assume that others will grasp your loaded connotations, than it is to expend paragraphs left and right.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:I personally don't see the need to gussy up the inference of general agency in human beings with pseudo-spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, mysticism, or false certainty. People should learn to be comfortable with some uncertainty about the place of minds in the universe.


My sensibilities aren't so different here, although my only quip would be that people should instead learn to be comfortable with it being a proposition subject to contention.

lichen » November 29th, 2016, 8:01 am wrote:Most of us are only unique in the way snowflakes and fingerprints are unique: different, but not special. Any individual may, of course, transcend mere human individuality. But it could be argued that this follows a statistical function: given enough humans, some percentage will distinguish themselves enough to make a significant impact beyond their own immediate surroundings. If an Einstein is killed prematurely, surely another will be along eventually. Likewise a Stalin.

The best (selfish) argument I can see for protecting, preserving and tending to human minds is that it multiplies potential. And given a healthy environment, a creative genius may be more likely to develop than a psychopath. But the bell curve will probably still apply. Most people will never have a truly unique idea, one that changes our understanding of the universe. But as long as we can afford it, as a species, we should give as many people as possible the chance to contribute what they can. The alternative, culling people aggressively like weeds in a garden, is probably needless cruelty.


You are appealing to the debate over utilitarian vs altruistic values. I am instead primarily concerned with what we say to ourselves on an experiential level, and reasoning about others in a way that we aren't inconsistent with ourselves.

Serpent » November 29th, 2016, 8:53 am wrote:They don't, you know. We all have pretty much the same mundane experiences with minor variations. And only because this is so can we conceive of human rights at all. If we were each unique, we would each need a different set of privileges, rather than a single set of rights.


If you can forgive me the assumption, I am guessing that you don't find the sum of your own experiences utterly mundane, that they have made a formidable impression and you attach value to them. If others are of a kind with you, then it makes little difference how most experiences can seem mundane and there isn't such a great range of variation between us.

Serpent » November 29th, 2016, 8:53 am wrote:If it's regardless of society, by whom are these rights being respected? By whom are they defined? For what purpose are they needed? By whom, and in what way, would the rights be infringed?


-The one who reasons that they happen to exist.
-The one reasoning, according to the dictates of his/her train of thought.
-In order to be logically consistent with one's self.
-That's up to the one reasoning, given how very general this whole argument is.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby mitchellmckain on December 1st, 2016, 5:21 am 

Human rights exist in the same way that love exists. They exist to degree that we give them, honor them, and act accordingly. If you say that you love someone and then act in a way which contradicts this then we are likely to conclude that this love you claim doesn't really exist. Likewise, if we pay lip service to human rights and trample them when inconvenient then the human rights we talk about are nothing but a sham.

So I guess the question for each of us is whether we believe in them. Do you believe in giving yourself to another even at your own expense at times or do you only believe in doing things which benefit you in someway. This is one of those things where belief strongly affects reality -- if you do not believe in it then for it will not exist. And human rights are much the same. Do we believe in limiting our use of force and expedience in deference to rights deserved by every human being or do we intend to justify the horrific treatment of others by the demands of our own fear and self interest?
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Serpent on December 1st, 2016, 12:20 pm 

Scruffy Nerf Herder » December 1st, 2016, 1:11 am wrote:
[S -- We all have pretty much the same mundane experiences with minor variations. And only because this is so can we conceive of human rights at all. If we were each unique, we would each need a different set of privileges, rather than a single set of rights.]

If you can forgive me the assumption, I am guessing that you don't find the sum of your own experiences utterly mundane, that they have made a formidable impression and you attach value to them. If others are of a kind with you, then it makes little difference how most experiences can seem mundane and there isn't such a great range of variation between us.

You've chosen to fixate on the word 'mundane' and gloss over the main point, which is: Unique individuals with novel experiences not only would each need different rights, but could not even conceive of a universal, or global or national charter of human rights.
The bolded clause is the gist: Only because others are of a kind with me can we agree on a code of social conduct.

[S --- by whom are these rights being respected?]

-The one who reasons that they happen to exist.

They do not "happen to exist". Have you ever glimpsed a right in the wild?
One does not need rights. One simply exists. Only when there are many must rights be invented: they are a social device.

[S -- By whom are they defined?]

-The one reasoning, according to the dictates of his/her train of thought.

If one has no society, one has no occasion to think up ways to protect his personal freedom: there is nobody to challenge or threaten it. If one had defined "rights" in the first place, one's train would not now be in this circular tunnel.
[S -- For what purpose are they needed? ]
-In order to be logically consistent with one's self.

Alone, one cannot help being consistent with one's self, as there is nobody to take away one's logical self-consistency. So, why does one need to identify a right to exercise it?
[S -- By whom, and in what way, would the rights be infringed?]

-That's up to the one reasoning, given how very general this whole argument is.

What? The one, without a society, all by himself, is supposed to conceive of possible 'others' who might be disposed to take away or limit his ability to be consistent with himself? And then choose which of his own phantasms wish to infringe on which of his imaginary freedoms?
Why would one do that?

It's precisely given the how very general your whole argument is that causes the problems in understanding it. Maybe you could pour a little concrete?
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby TheVat on December 1st, 2016, 12:53 pm 

I was curious about one thing you said, SNH....

"None in particular. I am arguing for humans as being in a general class, one which can be said to require considerations, on account of the novelty of their experiences."

How would you determine that humans, as a class, have more novel experiences than other sentient creatures, say, that cow that comprised part of your supper? If you are basing certain considerations, e.g. rights to life and liberty and happiness, on the cognitive capacity to have novel experiences, would you exclude my cats from these considerations? It can certainly be argued that the day I had the furnace ducts open (while remodeling), their journeys deep into the ductwork were a novel experience of the particular house I live in and rather distinct from my experiences of said ductwork. What about the mice, who see the ducts somewhat differently in terms of size and potential food sources. Do they have rights that exist, outside of our beliefs about them?
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby BadgerJelly on December 1st, 2016, 4:06 pm 

As very generalised answer to the generalised question human rights are about human reach and limitation. The environment of the human dictates the limits and right of the human dictates the reach. As humans are in each others environment empathy makes our limits amd our reach one fuzzy whole.

Humans have the right to attempt anything they can imagine and other humans may or may not attempt to stop or hinder them. We are our own safety nets really.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby lichen on December 1st, 2016, 8:41 pm 

It has come up elsewhere that (or whether) it's possible to be ethical, while also subscribing to a nihilistic world view. If nihilism is descriptive, but of itself offers little in guidance for how to behave, then ethics is the body of rules we apply to behaviour, for whatever reason.

I would argue that ethics are a good insofar as they produce a functional society. In fact, I think this is also an observable truth, insofar as societies without ethics function less well, from the perspective of the individuals in that society.

"If we experience novelty and others are of a kind with us, then it is illogical for us to value that novelty in ourselves and yet not ascribe such value to another person's novelty in consonance with our own admitted habit."

I don't agree that it's necessary to ascribe equality or equivalence to other people in order to recognize that ethics, in the form of enforced legal rights and rules of behaviour, are useful or valuable. However, I don't agree with the notion that we are required by logic to admit the equality or equivalence of other people based on their suspected ability to have novel experiences just like us.

I think it would be perfectly rational to assume that all other people are soulless, reactionary, mindless machines, but that, based on their behaviour, it's best to leave them be to some degree, and not abuse them, simply because of the practical consequences. Being a psychopath, however, generally doesn't work out, so perhaps it's more reasonable to believe that people are equal in some way, if only because beliefs tend to work better as a guide to behaviour than trying to reason out the right thing to do all the time.

But isn't this how we observe societies to work already? Don't people (like yourself, and possibly myself) have a propensity to make this assumption? Could you reasoning be circular? Is your argument a justification? I personally don't see the value in justifying beliefs. Either accept them, or, if they contradict the facts, change them.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 7th, 2016, 9:29 pm 

Serpent » December 1st, 2016, 9:20 am wrote:You've chosen to fixate on the word 'mundane' and gloss over the main point, which is: Unique individuals with novel experiences not only would each need different rights, but could not even conceive of a universal, or global or national charter of human rights.
The bolded clause is the gist: Only because others are of a kind with me can we agree on a code of social conduct.


You're right, I glossed over the question of just what rights to give people because my argument is only concerned with, and is an attempt at sufficiency in, discussing fundamental reasons for people having rights and whether it can be said that human rights must exist in some form. The argument isn't concerned with codes of conduct, it is concerned with what we tacitly admit to ourselves existentially and in our personal philosophy of mind, and thinking of others in a way that is consistent with ourselves.

Serpent » December 1st, 2016, 9:20 am wrote:They do not "happen to exist". Have you ever glimpsed a right in the wild?
One does not need rights. One simply exists. Only when there are many must rights be invented: they are a social device.


What should compel the social device? Are the rights the social device or is there an antecedent to said device which is related to what people are?

We don't need to glimpse a right traipsing around in the wild like a turkey in order to recognize that we both: consider ourselves novel beings, and we perceive others as being of the same kind as us. Regardless of it being natural, irrational, or whatever, we presumably still do both and cannot be thinking consistently if we have no sensitivity with respect to the idea of another as a novel being.

Serpent » December 1st, 2016, 9:20 am wrote:If one has no society, one has no occasion to think up ways to protect his personal freedom: there is nobody to challenge or threaten it. If one had defined "rights" in the first place, one's train would not now be in this circular tunnel.


Because we are primarily talking about existentialism with respect to ethics, society is the occasion for acting out these existential thoughts, not the vehicle behind them. Perceiving that there is something is quite separate from thinking about whether not it is being challenged or threatened. Moreover, "rights" can't be so easily defined on the grounds of the OP's argument alone because that would involve answering the question: what all, or what exactly, is it about my experiences that I think of as novelty?

Serpent » December 1st, 2016, 9:20 am wrote:Alone, one cannot help being consistent with one's self, as there is nobody to take away one's logical self-consistency. So, why does one need to identify a right to exercise it?


One needs to identify something to perceive and then reason about it. If I can demonstrate to myself that I care about novelty for it's own sake, that I do think of it as an end of it's own, then I am not thinking consistently when I don't similarly value novelty in others.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Serpent on December 7th, 2016, 9:43 pm 

Scruffy Nerf Herder » December 7th, 2016, 8:29 pm wrote:
The argument isn't concerned with codes of conduct, it is concerned with what we tacitly admit to ourselves existentially and in our personal philosophy of mind, and thinking of others in a way that is consistent with ourselves.

In that case, you are arguing about an undefined substance with an unidentified interlocutor, to an unspecified end.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 7th, 2016, 9:49 pm 

Braininvat » December 1st, 2016, 9:53 am wrote:I was curious about one thing you said, SNH....

"None in particular. I am arguing for humans as being in a general class, one which can be said to require considerations, on account of the novelty of their experiences."

How would you determine that humans, as a class, have more novel experiences than other sentient creatures, say, that cow that comprised part of your supper? If you are basing certain considerations, e.g. rights to life and liberty and happiness, on the cognitive capacity to have novel experiences, would you exclude my cats from these considerations? It can certainly be argued that the day I had the furnace ducts open (while remodeling), their journeys deep into the ductwork were a novel experience of the particular house I live in and rather distinct from my experiences of said ductwork. What about the mice, who see the ducts somewhat differently in terms of size and potential food sources. Do they have rights that exist, outside of our beliefs about them?


I wouldn't determine that on the grounds of existential argument alone. I would debate that subject with references to science, definitions of consciousness, and philosophy of mind. Should I exclude your cats? No, I'm sympathetic towards your notion that they indeed have novel experiences. But then again I still wouldn't consider their novelty in exactly the same light.
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Scruffy Nerf Herder on December 7th, 2016, 10:01 pm 

Serpent » December 7th, 2016, 6:43 pm wrote:
Scruffy Nerf Herder » December 7th, 2016, 8:29 pm wrote:
The argument isn't concerned with codes of conduct, it is concerned with what we tacitly admit to ourselves existentially and in our personal philosophy of mind, and thinking of others in a way that is consistent with ourselves.

In that case, you are arguing about an undefined substance with an unidentified interlocutor, to an unspecified end.


That's kind of the modus operandi with existentialism. I'd challenge anyone to define the substance, identify the interlocutors, or specify their ends all that much better in any other context.

However on second thought, with respect to your glib expression I still am not bound to agree that the substance, interlocutors, and ends are nebulous because I have established that: the substance is the perception of novelty, the interlocutors are those who don't think others can rationally be thought of as novel beings, and the end as always is edification, as it is in all of philosophy the whole point of the venture is asking and answering questions.

Anyone can say "your questions aren't worth considering and I don't see the value in them" to any set of questions, and as someone content to try and exercise reason about most anything all I can say in response is "sorry, I personally see value in thinking of ethics with existential grounds alone, if you aren't jazzed up by that line of questioning, sorry again".
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Re: Human rights: what are they, and do they exist?

Postby Serpent on December 7th, 2016, 10:45 pm 

Human rights = a perception of novelty.
I see nothing to argue there: you already agree with yourself and therefore have achieved self-consistency.

I would define rights very differently, and so we have no common subject to argue about.
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