Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the Subject of Rights (Discussion Topic)

People like to use the term "right" far too freely when regarding marriage, choice, and lifestyle.

Some who are more savvy distinguish between human rights, civil rights, and constitutional rights, though in the end many just identify where this or that applies and add "right" to the end of it.

Some call marriage a human right, others a civil right, and still others a constitutional right.

Rather than just argue about rights needlessly, it would stand to reason we need to come to an understanding of what rights actually mean. Those of you who rely on Wikipedia or some online dictionary probably don't realize (or you don't want to realize) that even encyclopedia entries are written by men who sometimes have an angle or agenda. I'm not saying they always do, but the 'devil is in the details,' as they say.

Therefore it would be better if we used some critical thinking in this manner starting with a few questions.

1) What is a 'right'?

2) Does a government, state, or law grantrights or protect rights?

3) Whichever way you answered [2], why?

4) Where do rights come from?

*I only offer my answer as a guide, you don't have to read it.*

Perhaps these questions will help guide our understanding in this matter. I won't answer my own questions in great detail just yet, only briefly:

1) A right is a term applied to some truth about the human person. It is somethings that is deserved or 'owed' to a person by the very nature of his being. This is called a "natural right" and is the foundation of all other rights.

Natural rights are, by definition, something that puts into word and formula something of the nature of an individual that is an essential aspect of it (e.g., the right to life).

2 and 3) Government cannot grant rights because rights do not come from man, per se. They are formulated in human terms and understanding, since human reason orders human experience. But experience precedes observation and formulation. Government is required to observe carefully throughout human history what is essential to individual and group flourishing and protect it.

But what is considered "good" and "essential" is subject to change if it is left up to the whims of individuals. Only the test of time and the collection of human wisdom and experience can accurately procure practical truths. Government, leaders, and others should humble themselves to the results of practical knowledge while being prepared to confront new challenges.

4) For me, rights ultimately come from God alone, the source and author of all being. Existence as it is cannot provide us with an adequate answer to what life is beyond chains of causalities (and mechanisms). Consciousness and personhood existed before our individual existence and without it rights would be meaningless exercise.

Rights are connected intimately with an understanding of teleology, for without a clear sense of what the ultimate good for man is our discussion of rights cannot protect that which will direct him there. Without a sense of our ultimate end, talk of rights degenerates to conversations about preference and emotion.


A little longer than I anticipated, sorry. Give it a try yourself. I hope we can generate some good discussion.