Brian Smith

Rights, moral claims, and immoral acts

232 posts in this topic

Basically, as I understand the relationship, the purpose of rights is to protect people from those who would initiate physical force against them.

I disagree. What you describe here is the purpose of government, not the purpose of rights.

Furthermore, one cannot arrive at an understanding of what physical force is or isn’t, without first grasping the concepts of property, values, and “rightful ownership” of values (including property).

Not true. Physical force is a primary that can be understood quite well, ostensively. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems that what you really highlight, here and in all that follows in your post, is that certain conditions or circumstances can properly be identified as initiation of physical force, and other conditions or circumstances as the retaliatory use of physical force. But, as far as I know, that point is uncontroversial here. What is at issue here is determining the principles by which one makes those distinctions. Other than you just asserting your view on that subject, I see nothing additional to address specifically.

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With regard to your comments about the nature of truth: if I understand you correctly, what you are trying to do is to reduce the issue only to the question of whether or not an initiation of force occurred "in fact," independent of the actor's context of knowledge. What I am arguing is precisely that an in-context evaluation of whether or not a rights violation has occurred involves more information than this.

Exactly. That is why, in my earlier examples, I noted that logically it appears to require *volitional* (and by direct implication, conscious) action on the part of another human being for those actions to constitute a rights violation against another. That is why a tornado killing you isn't a violation of your rights. But if a man or his property are, without his volitional action, part of what damages you, then it is little different than the tornado, except that one may be able to assess civil damages. Intention is indeed the only real difference between criminal and civil law, you cannot just throw it out as irrelevant. And it is *criminal* law that deals with the conscious violation of rights; simply being injured is not a crime, even if you can legally be compensated for the damage done.

Note that the effects of volition can be causally hidden, but still relevant. Suppose an incompetent or wicked car mechanic caused your brakes to fail later on, and the unknowing driver lost control going down the mountain road later in the day. It would be morally (and I hope legally) proper to 1) assess that the mechanic is responsible for violating the rights of both the driver of the car and anybody his car damages, and 2) require that the mechanic pay civil damages, 3) require that the mechanic be held criminally responsible.

The same exact set of facts, as observed occuring mechanistically, would have completely different meanings rights-wise depending on facts not in evidence by simply observing an accident occur.

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That is why a tornado killing you isn't a violation of your rights. But if a man or his property are, without his volitional action, part of what damages you, then it is little different than the tornado
If a man chooses to perform a particular act, that act is volitional. The fact that his act did not have the effect he intended, or resulted in consequences he did not foresee, does not change the fact that, of his own free will, he chose to perform that particular act. As such, he is responsible for that action and its effects.

What action that a man chooses to perform of his own free will are you suggesting is a non-volitional action?

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Tony, it is my view that your stated position mixes categories -- mixes perspectives on the facts...

I don't see how my position "mixes categories" or perspectives on the facts. Can you clarify this point?

The part of my sentence that was elided, as well as a good deal of the rest of my post, refers to and goes to that point. To clarify, most generally, the mixture in your "possible positions" lies in failing to separate justified belief from fact.

With regard to your comments about the nature of truth: if I understand you correctly, what you are trying to do is to reduce the issue only to the question of whether or not an initiation of force occurred "in fact," independent of the actor's context of knowledge. What I am arguing is precisely that an in-context evaluation of whether or not a rights violation has occurred involves more information than this.

Leaving aside "trying to do" -- which I think I did do, rather nicely at that B) -- when you characterize "an in-context evaluation" as your own, you imply something less than that for the view I articulated. But my perspective is an "in-context evaluation," one which includes fact, not just mistaken if justified belief, and one that focuses on consequences, not just intent or motivation.

Consequently, absent a specific objection to the logic of my argument, I'm not sure how to respond except by repeating that argument.

In previous posts I have given reasons for rejecting your basic argument -- most importantly, that it replaces fact with mistakenly justified belief. I have given reasons for rejecting your claim that "a violation of someone's rights is necessarily an immoral act" -- most importantly by reference to accidents and contractual disputes under civil law, both cases where rights are violated but the rights violator may be acting honestly, not immorally. These, and other criticisms I made have gone to the heart of the views you presented. If you do not consider these to be a "specific objection" then, respectfully, I do not know what else to offer.

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An act of force that goes beyond what in fact is justified as retaliatory, is just as much an initiation of force as if retaliatory force was never at first justified.

This is what I asked about in my previous question. I understand you to be saying here that the response is an initiation. My point is that this is a seeming contradiction. An initiation of force is the introduction of force where it previously was not being used. It is the -beginning- of the use of force. Force used in response is force used -after- force has already been introduced. It is the -continuation- of the use of force. How is a continuation of the use of force the beginning of the use of force?

We both acknowledge the rightfulness of retaliatory force, but we seem to differ in how to characterize force used in excess of what is justified as retaliatory. My assertion is that an inappropriate use of retaliatory force constitues an initiation of force in proportion to the amount of force (and its consequences) above and beyond what is justified as retaliatory. I consider this misuse as a new initiation of force, not as a continuation.

These are not issues I have given much thought to before, and I claim no expertise in the matter. If you or anyone else has a better view, by all means tell. I am completely open to being convinced about all of the issues discussed in this thread.

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Intention is indeed the only real difference between criminal and civil law, you cannot just throw it out as irrelevant. And it is *criminal* law that deals with the conscious violation of rights; simply being injured is not a crime, even if you can legally be compensated for the damage done.

Are you aware of the difference between murder and involuntary manslaughter? Both are criminal offenses, with the latter differentiated from the former by the lack of intent.

Since, as far as I can tell, no one here is throwing intention out as "irrelevant," Phil's first sentence above is a straw man.

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What action that a man chooses to perform of his own free will are you suggesting is a non-volitional action?

Err ... no. Please read what I wrote, several times now. I am speaking of such things as being in a car that is an unpredictable accident whose consequences are not within his volitional control, as I have already said. Do you think that such things are impossible?

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Are you aware of the difference between murder and involuntary manslaughter? Both are criminal offenses, with the latter differentiated from the former by the lack of intent.

Involuntary manslaughter *does* involve volition, given the definition here:

Homicides caused by recklessness or gross criminal negligence.

It involves volition by, basically, evasion, a willful suppression of, or lack of, focus.

Are you suggesting that ANY accident is either fully intentional or a result of recklessness or gross criminal negligence? A clear, everyday third case is: An accident that is *not* reckless or the result of gross criminal negligence. Like somebody having an unexpected stroke or heart attack while driving, whose car then goes out of control to kill somebody, to use one of any number of countless real world examples. Do you consider those examples to be in the category of involuntary manslaughter?

I am not entirely clear on your answer to this, since I was taking the answer for granted: Do you consider that a tornado has violated somebody's rights if it kills somebody?

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Are you aware of the difference between murder and involuntary manslaughter? Both are criminal offenses, with the latter differentiated from the former by the lack of intent.

Involuntary manslaughter *does* involve volition, given the definition here:...

Yes, Phil, but my words were in response to your claim,

Phil: "Intention is indeed the only real difference between criminal and civil law, you cannot just throw it out as irrelevant."

And the missing sentence from where I was quoted, said "Since, as far as I can tell, no one here is throwing intention out as 'irrelevant,' Phil's first sentence above is a straw man."

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Hi Tony,

I have wanted to address the very interesting essay you wrote but, since I am not welcome on Noodlefood, I've been doing it by proxy here on THE FORUM. Now that you're here we can cut out the middlemen and go one-on-one.

I agree with two of your premises: your statement of Ayn Rand's definition of rights and that rights are contextual. I don't agree with your conclusion, if I understand it correctly, that if a man acts morally, he cannot violate another man's rights and that every violation of rights involves someone acting immorally.

I have a problem with your essential argument.

According to Objectivism, "A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." There are two aspects of this definition that I want to focus on in making my point. The first is that a right is a moral principle. As such, like every other principle, it is contextual -- that is, it has a context in which it applies, and there are also contexts in which it does not apply. The second is that it is a "sanction to independent action." What this means is that a right is a moral claim upon the actions of others -- specifically, a claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action. I think it follows from this that because rights are moral claims upon the actions of others, that a violation of someone's rights is necessarily an immoral act.

My first issue has to do with the use of moral/immoral. I see an equivocation here.

The first highlighted use of the word "moral" doesn't at all mean the same thing as "immoral" in the last sentence. When Ayn Rand says that "rights are a moral principle" I see it as meaning that rights are an ethical principle like justice or independence, i.e., a principle pertaining to human choices, as distinguished from the principles of physics or the principles of biology. This is strictly a descriptive use of the word moral without any evaluative or normative content whatsoever. It simply states "this is" rather than "this should be." The use of "immoral," on the other hand, is an evaluative and normative word heavily loaded with an implicit "this should not be."

If you agree with my understanding of what Ayn Rand meant in her use of the word "moral" in the definition of rights, it has an impact on the rest of your argument. If not, let's discuss it.

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Yes, Phil, but my words were in response to your claim,

Ok. I suppose that a broader concept than intention was volition, which is what I had in mind (though they are surely very strongly connected.) In any case, I do think that there's a fundamental difference between actions involving volition, and actions which are the result of literal forces beyond one's control - as does the law, since not everyone involved in an accident is chargeable even with involuntary manslaughter.

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The first highlighted use of the word "moral" doesn't at all mean the same thing as "immoral" in the last sentence. When Ayn Rand says that "rights are a moral principle" I see it as meaning that rights are an ethical principle like justice or independence, i.e., a principle pertaining to human choices, as distinguished from the principles of physics or the principles of biology. This is strictly a descriptive use of the word moral without any evaluative or normative content whatsoever. It simply states "this is" rather than "this should be." The use of "immoral," on the other hand, is an evaluative and normative word heavily loaded with an implicit "this should not be."

If you agree with my understanding of what Ayn Rand meant in her use of the word "moral" in the definition of rights, it has an impact on the rest of your argument. If not, let's discuss it.

Betsy,

Thanks for for a reply that addresses the basic argument that I presented. I do appreciate that, even though I don't agree your analysis. I think you are right that the use of the word "moral" in the definition is descriptive, in the sense that the definition is not saying that "a right ought to be a moral principle..." But the referent of the definition ("A right") is clearly described as a moral principle, which when reduced would be in the appropriate and normative "ought to" form.

I also think that it is significant that the definition is in the singular rather than the plural. That is, it does not say that "rights are a moral principle," but that "A right is a moral principle..." That tells me that the referent ("A right") is not being used generally and descriptively, but in a form that immediately needs to be reduced further to specific examples in order to be intelligible.

So to take a specific example to concretize: "The right to property is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action to create and keep life-sustaining values in a social context." When I concretize the definition, what I see are specific principles that clearly provide moral guidance in the sense relevant to my essay. A moral principle that didn't delineate moral vs. immoral actions would be a contradiction in terms, and certainly not very useful as something that provides moral guidance.

Does this address your objection, or am I misunderstanding or mischaracterizing it in some way?

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Tony, if you do not want to address the arguments and facts I presented that contradict your view, then so be it. They have been presented, nonetheless.

I will not push you further. However, for the record I would like you to clarify your view by applying it to reality. A key part of your view is your following statement:

I think it follows from this that because rights are moral claims upon the actions of others, that a violation of someone's rights is necessarily an immoral act.
Consider the very concrete circumstance of an automobile accident. Say that a man driving a car, exerting all due awareness and diligence, nevertheless hits another vehicle being driven faultlessly. Accidents happen.

In this accident I see 4 possibilities regarding rights and immorality.

1. There was no violation of rights and no immoral act.

2. There was no violation of rights but there was an immoral act.

3. There was a violation of rights but no immoral act.

4. There was a violation of rights and there was an immoral act.

Considering your quoted statement above, either "1." or "4." would apply. Which one represents the application of your view to these facts?

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I think you are right that the use of the word "moral" in the definition is descriptive, in the sense that the definition is not saying that "a right ought to be a moral principle..." But the referent of the definition ("A right") is clearly described as a moral principle, which when reduced would be in the appropriate and normative "ought to" form.

I disagree. Definitions are, properly, value-neutral. Their function is not to evaluate, but to delineate. Their function is to map out the area of reality that a concept applies to and differentiate the units of a concept from non-units of the concept. Evaluating those units involves separate acts of identification of the properties of the actual units, in addition to the definition.

To illustrate, observe how Ayn Rand defines value: That which ones acts to gain or keep. This is a general, value-neutral definition that includes a dictator seeking to gain and keep slaves, an addict seeking heroin, etc, as well as a rational man seeking the truth. It says nothing about what are proper values that one should gain and keep. To do that, you have to find the source of the concept of value in reality, define a standard of value based on it, and apply that standard to the actual properties of the actual things men might seek to gain and/or keep.

Applying this to rights, first I would define the genus: a moral principle. It means and applies to all principles (genus) involving human choice (differentia). Rights are a moral principle and so is justice -- and so is altruism. "Moral principle" subsumes them all and says nothing, by itself, about whether the principle is proper, correct, or should be used. To determine that requires separate identifications of the meaning of justice, the nature of altruism, why man needs rights, etc.

I also think that it is significant that the definition is in the singular rather than the plural. That is, it does not say that "rights are a moral principle," but that "A right is a moral principle..." That tells me that the referent ("A right") is not being used generally and descriptively, but in a form that immediately needs to be reduced further to specific examples in order to be intelligible.

I disagree. Singular or plural doesn't matter. Ayn Rand's definition is "A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context." It includes all such principles, valid and invalid alike, that are moral principles defining a man's freedom of action in dealing with other men. It includes the proper individual rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as improper and invalid rights like the right of Hitler to kill 6 million Jews. The latter, after all, is a moral principle defining and sanctioning (by altruism, nationalism, and antisemitism) Hitler's freedom to take that act. It requires separate identifications to evaluate why individual rights should be sacred and why mass murder is evil.

So to take a specific example to concretize: "The right to property is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action to create and keep life-sustaining values in a social context." When I concretize the definition, what I see are specific principles that clearly provide moral guidance in the sense relevant to my essay.

But you can't do that from the definition alone. The definition only tells you that "property rights" is a unit of the concept "rights." To prove that property rights arise from man's nature and that property rights ought to be recognized and protected requires separate, additional identifications.

I see the main flaw with your argument is that you are trying to deduce your normative conclusion from the definition of rights, and you can't properly do that. Deduction only works when the conclusion is already contained in the premise(s). I see Ayn Rand's definition of "rights" as properly descriptive and value-neutral and the "should" and the "ought" just aren't in there.

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---------

I do not consider the use of retaliatory force to be a blank check on one's actions (not to imply that Brian does). An act of force that goes beyond what in fact is justified as retaliatory, is just as much an initiation of force as if retaliatory force was never at first justified. To give an extreme example: If a child breaks a window of my house while he is playing ball in the street, and if the parent refuses to pay for the damage, I have no right to shoot him. I do, however, have every right to request retaliatory force be used by the state to enforce my rightful claim against the parent. For that, the state has established legal procedures to adjudicate and enforce my claim.

I agree with this point. The proper use of retaliatory force also prevents you from going over to the parent's house and breaking his window, or breaking into his house and stealing something of equal value compared to repairing your window. The only justifiable action is to get the government involved to seek retaliation.

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Tony,

Can you address this issue I mentioned in Post #3 concerning your argument? I'll quote it here again.

You stated

"a right is a moral claim upon the actions of others -- specifically, a claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action." Does this mean if I want to take an independent action, such as stealing someone's money, that others cannot interfere with my action? Ayn Rand states,

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

How does a "claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action" equate to "abstain[ing] from violating his rights"? These two points seem to be in conflict.

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To illustrate, observe how Ayn Rand defines value: That which ones acts to gain or keep. This is a general, value-neutral definition that includes a dictator seeking to gain and keep slaves, an addict seeking heroin, etc, as well as a rational man seeking the truth. It says nothing about what are proper values that one should gain and keep.

I completely agree - Ayn Rand knew what she was doing when she made her definition. Oddly though I have spoken with more than one prominent Objectivist, people who strongly claim that a value is a value only if it's a *rational value*. But doing so causes one to remove the proper conceptual classification for what is the same basic psychological mechanism in those who are pursuing values that are not entirely (or at all) rational. Even beyond that - all life arguably pursues values, albeit in a non-conscious/non-volitional way, even such as a plant growing towards sunlight. Such a broad but accurate definition identifies a critical fact about the nature of life.

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Tony, if you do not want to address the arguments and facts I presented that contradict your view, then so be it. They have been presented, nonetheless.

Stephen,

I don't understand why you're making such an assumption. I happen to be pretty busy this weekend and have only had time for only a few responses, primarily ones that I know how address fairly quickly.

With regard to your objections to my argument: I still do not understand them. Consequently, I will need to set aside the necessary time to re-read your remarks carefully and think about them before I will be able to formulate a proper response. Unfortunately, given my other commitments, that will probably have to wait until the middle of next week.

There is one thing that I can respond to now, though:

Consider the very concrete circumstance of an automobile accident. Say that a man driving a car, exerting all due awareness and diligence, nevertheless hits another vehicle being driven faultlessly. Accidents happen.

In this accident I see 4 possibilities regarding rights and immorality.

1. There was no violation of rights and no immoral act.

2. There was no violation of rights but there was an immoral act.

3. There was a violation of rights but no immoral act.

4. There was a violation of rights and there was an immoral act.

Considering your quoted statement above, either "1." or "4." would apply. Which one represents the application of your view to these facts?

I am arguing for position 1.

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Preface: I only have time for a quick response now. I will try to respond at greater length, if necessary, in a few days.

I disagree. Definitions are, properly, value-neutral.

Betsy, I completely agree, and there is nothing in my argument that relies on them being otherwise. The definition is descriptive, but what it describes is a moral principle and as such is normative.

It says nothing about what are proper values that one should gain and keep.

I certainly agree with this, but I simply don't see how it is relevant as a criticism of my argument. The definition is not a substitute for a reduction of the concept "rights." I didn't do this in detail in my essay because it wasn't necessary to my thesis. The facts about rights that were relevant to my argument were available from the definition: that they are moral principles which describe boundaries on the actions of others in a social context.

Are you raising an analogue of the issue that Dr. Peikoff did in examining the question of whether a value that is not life-sustaining is really a "value?" That just as that there are two perspectives on whether something is a value, that there are two perspectives on whether something is a right? As I understood that distinction, the issue there was that the concept "value" was legitimately formed before people knew the Objectivist identification that "valid" values are necessarily life-sustaining, and as a result there was a meaningful sense in which non-life-sustaining values are nevertheless still "values." If you're arguing that there is also a meaningful sense in which this applies to "rights," then at first thought I would say I agree with that. However, the intent of my essay was to be an analysis from within an Objectivist perspective, and I don't mind qualifying my argument to stipulate that what I mean are not just "rights," but "objectively and demonstrably valid" rights.

However, I have some suspicion that this isn't what you mean, since you also write the following:

I see the main flaw with your argument is that you are trying to deduce your normative conclusion from the definition of rights, and you can't properly do that. Deduction only works when the conclusion is already contained in the premise(s).

Actually, in this particular case, I think that is true.

I see Ayn Rand's definition of "rights" as properly descriptive and value-neutral and the "should" and the "ought" just aren't in there.

"Should" and "ought," by definition, are in any moral principle. As I understand it, that's what it means to be a moral principle. Are you trying to say that you regard the Objectivist view of rights as one that defines moral principles that are not normative? I don't see how that makes any sense.

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I see the main flaw with your argument is that you are trying to deduce your normative conclusion from the definition of rights, and you can't properly do that. Deduction only works when the conclusion is already contained in the premise(s).

Actually, in this particular case, I think that is true.

Just a clarification: what I think is true in this particular case is that the information necessary to arrive at my conclusion is contained in the definition.

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Tony,

Can you address this issue I mentioned in Post #3 concerning your argument?

How does a "claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action" equate to "abstain[ing] from violating his rights"? These two points seem to be in conflict.

I don't think I ever equated those two. Let me restate the issue again for clarity. As I understand it, according to Objectivism, a right is a moral claim upon others not to interfere with your exercise of independent action. A violation of your rights occurs when someone acts to interfere with your freedom to act, through the initiation of force. The reasons for this are that man survives by the application of his reason to the creation of life-sustaining values; that the creation of life-sustaining values requires not just reason, but action on the basis of one's reason; and that the initiation of force at root paralyzes and destroys this one's ability to think and act on the basis of one's reason (which, to repeat, is required to create life-sustaining values).

This is a condensed description, and for a longer and more thorough analysis I would recommend chapters 6 and 7 of Dr. Peikoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand."

"a right is a moral claim upon the actions of others -- specifically, a claim that they not interfere with your exercise of independent action." Does this mean if I want to take an independent action, such as stealing someone's money, that others cannot interfere with my action?

Of course not. I'm implicitly assuming, since I'm writing for an Objectivist audience, that "interfere with" is understood to mean: interfere with by force. The action you describe is an initiation of force, and the idea of "freedom to be free from force in one's choice to use force" is a (typically anarchist) contradiction in terms.

Ayn Rand states, QUOTE(Man's Rights @ CUI @ The Obj. Research CD)

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

That's exactly right. But the negative perspective is implicit in the positive one that she describes in this quote, which further illustrates that these are in fact two perspectives on the same issue. You can see that from her use of the word "freedom" in describing the "positive" sanction. Freedom in the relevant sense here means: freedom from the use of force by others. There is no "right" to be "free," for example, from the metaphysically given, such as the fact of one's mortality, or from acts of nature like an avalanche. Such things fall outside the context in which moral evaluation (and thus rights, as moral principles) can apply.

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All,

That's all I'm going to be able to have time for this weekend. I should be able to check in again on Wednesday night and follow up on the discussion then.

Tony

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Tony, if you do not want to address the arguments and facts I presented that contradict your view, then so be it. They have been presented, nonetheless.

Stephen,

I don't understand why you're making such an assumption.

Well, for starters, in this thread I posted my objections to your view here, here, and here. Following my posts, in this post you said:

After skimming the thread, I don't have anything to add at this time. At least so far, the comments here that have referred to my essay do not appear to have addressed the arguments and reasons for my view that I presented in it. I'll check back periodically and respond as necessary if that changes.

Having myself already made the three posts I referenced above, I take your comment here to mean that you did not think that I addressed your arguments and therefore you have nothing to say about those objections. This was confirmed in my reading of another of your posts, after I again posted my objections.

At this point I am fine without pursuing you on this; in fact I have spent more time and effort on this subject than my interests warrant, so I am more than content to just leave it at that.

But, before leaving this thread, I want to follow-up on the example that you actually did choose to address.

There is one thing that I can respond to now, though:
Consider the very concrete circumstance of an automobile accident. Say that a man driving a car, exerting all due awareness and diligence, nevertheless hits another vehicle being driven faultlessly. Accidents happen.

In this accident I see 4 possibilities regarding rights and immorality.

1. There was no violation of rights and no immoral act.

2. There was no violation of rights but there was an immoral act.

3. There was a violation of rights but no immoral act.

4. There was a violation of rights and there was an immoral act.

Considering your quoted statement above, either "1." or "4." would apply. Which one represents the application of your view to these facts?

I am arguing for position 1.

If the man who was hit did not have his rights violated when his movement was impeded and his property damaged, then on what basis is the one who caused the accident held legally repsonsible? Note I said "legally" responsible, not "morally" responsible.

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The facts about rights that were relevant to my argument were available from the definition: that they are moral principles which describe boundaries on the actions of others in a social context.

That is not what Ayn Rand's definition of rights says. It refers only to the actor's freedom of action. Any additional inferences about the actions of others must be proven with additional evidence. They cannot be deduced from the definition.

Are you raising an analogue of the issue that Dr. Peikoff did in examining the question of whether a value that is not life-sustaining is really a "value?" That just as that there are two perspectives on whether something is a value, that there are two perspectives on whether something is a right? As I understood that distinction, the issue there was that the concept "value" was legitimately formed before people knew the Objectivist identification that "valid" values are necessarily life-sustaining, and as a result there was a meaningful sense in which non-life-sustaining values are nevertheless still "values."

There is an important distinction between "value" as Ayn Rand defined it and proper value. They are two different, but related, concepts. Switching between the two in the middle of an argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. Assuming one particular standard of value is the only standard of value, as those who assume morality = altruism do, is to treat "value" as a frozen abstraction.

I am making a similar distinction between "right," as Ayn Rand defined it and a valid right. The equivocation in your argument consists of using "right" in both senses and slipping in what you think is valid between Ayn Rand's definition in the beginning of your argument, thus ending up with a different concept of rights.

If you're arguing that there is also a meaningful sense in which this applies to "rights," then at first thought I would say I agree with that. However, the intent of my essay was to be an analysis from within an Objectivist perspective, and I don't mind qualifying my argument to stipulate that what I mean are not just "rights," but "objectively and demonstrably valid" rights.

Then you can't just deduce your conclusion from Ayn Rand's definition of rights because it applies to all rights, not just the valid ones from an Objectivist perspective. In order to make your case, you will have to prove, giving additional evidence, that what you claim is an "objectively and demonstrably valid" right is, in fact, objectively and demonstrably valid.

However, I have some suspicion that this isn't what you mean, since you also write the following:
I see the main flaw with your argument is that you are trying to deduce your normative conclusion from the definition of rights, and you can't properly do that. Deduction only works when the conclusion is already contained in the premise(s).

Actually, in this particular case, I think that is true [that the information necessary to arrive at my conclusion is contained in the definition].

"Should" and "ought," by definition, are in any moral principle.

True, but which moral principle defines and sanctions a given freedom of action is not specified in Ayn Rand's definition of rights. Her definition of rights applies to any moral principle that defines and sanctions someone's freedom of action. You can't just assume it refers only to yours. In fact, to assume it is actually to assume what you are trying to prove, and that is the fallacy of begging the question.

As I understand it, that's what it means to be a moral principle. Are you trying to say that you regard the Objectivist view of rights as one that defines moral principles that are not normative? I don't see how that makes any sense.

I am saying that "a moral principle" applies to any moral principle -- valid or invalid -- and that the particular moral principle is one of the omitted measurements in the concept of rights. You seem to be changing Ayn Rand's "a moral principle" to the (one, particular) moral principle you regard as valid -- and you are making the switch in mid-argument. This results in an equivocation. It also turns Ayn Rand's concept of rights into a frozen abstraction.

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I don't think I ever equated those two. Let me restate the issue again for clarity. As I understand it, according to Objectivism, a right is a moral claim upon others not to interfere with your exercise of independent action.

But this is the specific issue that I don't see how you get it from Objectivism's analysis of rights, in Rand's essay, Man's Rights: "his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights." If a person's rights impose no obligations, then how can you assert that a right is a moral claim upon others? To abstain from violating rights is not the same as not interfering with the exercise of my independent action. To abstain from violating rights means that others do not take positive action against me when I act. I am not making any moral claim on them.

A violation of your rights occurs when someone acts to interfere with your freedom to act, through the initiation of force. The reasons for this are that man survives by the application of his reason to the creation of life-sustaining values; that the creation of life-sustaining values requires not just reason, but action on the basis of one's reason; and that the initiation of force at root paralyzes and destroys this one's ability to think and act on the basis of one's reason (which, to repeat, is required to create life-sustaining values).

I agree. But the fact that others can violate my rights is not a consequence of my right to action or any moral claim that my rights impose on others. I don't see the connection you're making. It seems like you're changing the definition.

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