Betsy Speicher

Moral Dilemma #3

65 posts in this topic

Hello all,

I maybe only 11 you can call me a child.  But I don't think it's right to spank a child unless it has come to the point when you have told them to do something over and over, but yet still they do not do it then yes spank once, or time out, or something maybe not violent but still a punishment like ground them.

Hi Tyler,

I think you have the right idea, but wouldn't you say that using the "time out" or the "ground them" approach is a lot more proper than spanking, even spanking once? What will a child learn from inflicting physical punishment on him?

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Stephen,

I agree with you, because my dad and I had a conversation after he read my post. He explained it in a similar fashion as you did. So I can say that I agree with both of you.

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Stephen,

I agree with you, because my dad and I had a conversation after he read my post.  He explained it in a similar fashion as you did.  So I can say that I agree with both of you.

Then we know there are at least three of us. :)

It is nice to think about these sort of issues beforehand, so that when the time comes you will know how and why you will act.

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I disagree. Rights are based on the child's nature as a human being, and the child therefore has every right as does his parents. The fact that the child cannot properly exercise all of his rights simply means that the child requires a custodian for his rights, not that he does not possess them.

Thank you Stephen, I'm integrating the issue much better.

Would you agree to elaborate on the nature of such rights which the child obviously possess yet cannot properly exercise?

If the process of one's rational faculty evolves at different times from one child to another, how can we decide when a child is able to exercise all of his rights?

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I disagree. Rights are based on the child's nature as a human being, and the child therefore has every right as does his parents. The fact that the child cannot properly exercise all of his rights simply means that the child requires a custodian for his rights, not that he does not possess them.

I disagree with you, Stephen.

The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. 

A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context.

The concept of a "right" pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

[T]he right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.  (emphasis added)

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

(Man's Rights in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal; The Obj. Res. CD)

I'm not sure where a child's nature enters into the above, but perhaps you can enlighten me. There are many adults who cannot properly exercise "all of his rights" and require "custodians." If a 17-year old "child" is very smart and is fully aware of the political issues and tries to enter a voting booth, he will be physically restrained from doing so; i.e., he does not possess the right to vote. If a five year old wants to fulfill and enjoy his life and buy some ice cream, how is he to do so on his own?

If someone is not rational (for whatever reason), in my opinion, he cannot exercise his rights because he doesn't have those rights. Precisely how those rights are to be restricted is a legal matter. Please cite where states allow children to own property outright? The fact that children require guardians or custodians does not mean that they cannot properly exercise their rights, it means that they don't have rights until they reach a certain stage of development (rationality). Who decides whom the guardian should be? Certainly not the child.

Why can't a child "exercise" his rights? Because he is being legally restrained from doing so. There used to be a time when 5 and 10 year old children had to work to avoid starvation. What prevents them from working now?

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I'm not sure where a child's nature enters into the above, but perhaps you can enlighten me.

As I said, the child's nature as a human being, i.e., a rational animal. When an infant is born -- when the human becomes a physically separate being -- he acquires the fundamental right from which all other rights are derived -- the right to life. The fact that an infant cannot himself exercise all of his derivative rights is a direct consequence of his inability to fully exercise his rational faculty (along with a lack of physical maturity). Hence the requirement for parental guardianship of the child's rights.

Unlike the anarchist, however, we do not hold the right to life as permission to do whatever we want. We cannot claim our right to life as a basis for openly copulating in a public place. The issue of voting that you brought up is a derivative right subject to conditions that must be met before it can be exercised. But the right itself is inherent in the fundamental right to life which is acquired at the moment of birth.

Perhaps it might help to look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. In forming a proper government we delegate certain derivative rights, such as the retaliatory use of physical force. Placing this use of retaliatory force under the objective control of the government thereby puts restraints on our free exercise of that right. Would you then say that by delegating such a right we have lost it because we cannot then ordinarily exercise the right? I say no, we have not lost the right, even though there are restraints and conditions limiting our free exercise thereof.

All rights are derived from the fundamental right to life, and a child acquires that right when he is born. The fact that the child requires a custodian to exercise his rights does not mean that the child does not possess such rights. Same with your example of a man whose rational faculty is incapacitated; he retains his rights, but he requires a guardian to exercise them.

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If the process of one's rational faculty evolves at different times from one child to another, how can we decide when a child is able to exercise all of his rights?

There are two aspects of that issue; parental and societal. A parent judges on his own how much freedom to act he allows his child. Society, through laws and regulations, decides legal responsibilities and conditions, and in doing so establishes some standard meant to apply to all children. Note, however, that most states provide for legal emancipation, where if a child can demonstrate to the court his ability to function as an adult, he can be emancipated from his parents at an earlier age than that age normally established.

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Perhaps it might help to look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. In forming a proper government we delegate certain derivative rights, such as the retaliatory use of physical force.

That is a very good example, thanks!

I still have a problem here:

How do I argue that ethically, there is a fundamental difference between a child who needs his parents to help him exercise his rights, and a mature man who has the mind of a child (and therefore cannot exercise his rights as well)? Why does the law protect the need of the child but not the need of the man whose rational faculty is incapacitated?

The topic I was arguing against was a notion that hypothetically, according to Objectivism, a man has the right to do whatever he wants to his kids because they're his property. I did say that they cannot be property because they have unalienable rights for as long as they live.

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As I said, the child's nature as a human being, i.e., a rational animal. When an infant is born -- when the human becomes a physically separate being -- he acquires the fundamental right from which all other rights are derived -- the right to life. The fact that an infant cannot himself exercise all of his derivative rights is a direct consequence of his inability to fully exercise his rational faculty (along with a lack of physical maturity). Hence the requirement for parental guardianship of the child's rights.

Unlike the anarchist, however, we do not hold the right to life as permission to do whatever we want. We cannot claim our right to life as a basis for openly copulating in a public place. The issue of voting that you brought up is a derivative right subject to conditions that must be met before it can be exercised. But the right itself is inherent in the fundamental right to life which is acquired at the moment of birth.

Perhaps it might help to look at the issue from a slightly different perspective. In forming a proper government we delegate certain derivative rights, such as the retaliatory use of physical force. Placing this use of retaliatory force under the objective control of the government thereby puts restraints on our free exercise of that right. Would you then say that by delegating such a right we have lost it because we cannot then ordinarily exercise the right? I say no, we have not lost the right, even though there are restraints and conditions limiting our free exercise thereof.

All rights are derived from the fundamental right to life, and a child acquires that right when he is born. The fact that the child requires a custodian to exercise his rights does not mean that the child does not possess such rights. Same with your example of a man whose rational faculty is incapacitated; he retains his rights, but he requires a guardian to exercise them.

It appears that our differences arise from implications of potential vs. actual rights. I'd agree that all men (including children, disabled etc.), qua species, have rights that can not be taken away. However, the specific conditions that specific men live under may not recognize rights and men may not have any capacity to exercise those rights. E.g., a man in a concentration camp may have the right to life, property and the pursuit of happiness, but he is unable to exercise those rights, i.e., they are denied by society. Does it make sense to tell a man as he's being tortured that he has the right to life, liberty and property? Perhaps, so that he at least knows he's being treated wrongly. But what options does he have for action in a social context? Children cannot exercise their rights in a similar manner, unless, as you noted below, they can demonstrate to a judge that they can survive on their own.

I suppose my question should be, does a man have rights if he is in a situation in which the exercise of such rights are impossible or severely restricted? If a man has rights by his nature outside of a social context, then is it ever proper to speak of rights being denied by someone or some agency?

What does Ayn Rand mean when she states: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context" if not that the concept "rights" are genetically dependent upon a social context? It would seem that that social context is what would allow one to state the rights are being denied, restricted, or transferred.

Fundamental rights are subject to conditions that must be met before they can be exercised also. The right to liberty and property can not be met unless you happen to be born in a country that respects those rights.

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How do I argue that ethically, there is a fundamental difference between a child who needs his parents to help him exercise his rights, and a mature man who has the mind of a child (and therefore cannot exercise his rights as well)?

What "fundamental difference" did you have in mind?

Why does the law protect the need of the child but not the need of the man whose rational faculty is incapacitated?

What do you mean by "protect the need?" Do you mean "protect the rights?" If so, in what way does the law not protect the rights of an incapacitated man?

The topic I was arguing against was a notion that hypothetically, according to Objectivism, a man has the right to do whatever he wants to his kids because they're his property. I did say that they cannot be property because they have unalienable rights for as long as they live.

Children as property? Whomever you are arguing against has a rather strange view of the philosophy. A child has a right to life, period.

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What does Ayn Rand mean when she states: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context" ...

Relevant to this, and to the other questions you raised, I would suggest first reading the thread "Objectivism's Concept of 'Rights'," starting here . Then we can continue on if the issues have not been clarified.

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What "fundamental difference" did you have in mind?

The child's "needs" which are to be fulfilled by the parent are, and should be protected by law. The needs of the disabled, mature man should not.

What do you mean by "protect the need?" Do you mean "protect the rights?" 

By "needs" I mean the course of action that a responsible parent undertakes in order to sustain the life of his child.

Children as property? Whomever you are arguing against has a rather strange view of the philosophy.

Indeed. He is not an Objectivist, but I suspect that his motives for asking that question are genuine and for that reason I'm willing to tolerate such notions, at least until he knows better. I think that he wants to be sure that Objectivism besides being the only moral philosophy, is the most practical one by testing its weakest links (his idea of Objectivism's weakest links).

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The child's "needs" which are to be fulfilled by the parent are, and should be protected by law. The needs of the disabled, mature man should not.

I would be very cautious in using the word "needs" in this context. What is due a child is his by right. A disabled man may "need" a wheelchair to get around, but such is not due him by right. Sometimes, but not always, accepting an opponent's terminology amounts to implicitly accepting their premise.

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Relevant to this, and to the other questions you raised, I would suggest first reading the thread "Objectivism's Concept of 'Rights'," starting here . Then we can continue on if the issues have not been clarified.

Thanks, Stephen, for the reference to the thread. I read it and agree with the conclusions that there is a distinction between political and moral rights, and that both arise within a social context. This leads me to change my mind with respect to my understanding of rights to children.

Children, by their nature, are born directly into a social context. Their parents are the guardians and protectors of their life. Thus the concept of rights immediately becomes applicable. And it is specifically because of these rights that parents are regarded as guardians.

Do you agree with my reasoning? Any other comments.

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Children, by their nature, are born directly into a social context.  Their parents are the guardians and protectors of their life.  Thus the concept of rights immediately becomes applicable.  And it is specifically because of these rights that parents are regarded as guardians.

I would just clarify that it is specifically because the parents brought the child into the world, with full knowledge that the child could not survive without their guardianship, that the parents are responsible for the child.

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The parent acts as custodian for the child's rights, until such time that the child is able to reasonably exercise those rights on his own. (In some cases that would be around the age of 45.  :) )

That reminds me of the old joke one of my professors told me:

"The Jews don't consider the fetus to be a human being until it graduates from medical school..."

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I would be very cautious in using the word "needs" in this context.

I understand what you mean.

What is due a child is his by right.

Here lies the problem. As I said before, one of the issues that I was arguing for was the idea that rights pertain only to freedom of action. If that's true, then there has to be a clear distinction between the necessities of the child (such as food and clothing) and the rights of men.

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As I said before, one of the issues that I was arguing for was the idea that rights pertain only to freedom of action. If that's true, then there has to be a clear distinction between the necessities of the child (such as food and clothing) and the rights of men.

Why?

A child has the right to life (the action of living), liberty (the action of moving about), property (the action of using and disposing of the food, clothing, shelter and other material things he needs to live) the same as an adult. The only difference is, he needs the assistance of his parent or guardian to take those actions.

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Here lies the problem. As I said before, one of the issues that I was arguing for was the idea that rights pertain only to freedom of action. If that's true, then there has to be a clear distinction between the necessities of the child (such as food and clothing) and the rights of men.

I'm not sure I understand your point of distinction. The distinction seems more related to legal responsibility than to rights per se. A child has the right to life, which, as you say, pertains to freedom of action, specifically to those actions necessary for the maintenance and sustenance of his life. Exactly the same rights as the rights of men. The only difference is one of moral and legal responsibility, in that since the child, by definition, is not able to exercise all his rights, the parent, due to his responsibility, acts as legal guardian of those rights.

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The only difference is one of moral and legal responsibility, in that since the child, by definition, is not able to exercise all his rights, the parent, due to his responsibility, acts as legal guardian of those rights.

It occurs to me just now, that there are at least two important differences between adult rights and children's rights, qua the parent acting as legal guardian of those rights.

First, an adult has a right to will to act in any way that he pleases, up to the point of violating somebody else's rights. Clearly a child does not have that right. For many actions, what would be the *will* of the child is substituted by the *will* of the parents (e.g. "We're not going to the playground right now, you and mommy are going to the grocery store.") Naturally as the child grows older, there is an expectation that their child can accept a growing set of responsibilities and consequences for their own actions. (Barring those irrational parents who foster pathological dependency in their children.) And, a rational parent should want their children to exercise their own will, as long as the activity isn't harmful and isn't violating an adult-level hierarchy of priorities.

Secondly, an adult can, within his rights, choose to take actions which are objectively harmful only to himself (including e.g. such activities as smoking alone.) A parent however has the obligation to act only beneficially for the sake of his child (or at least, what their perception of beneficial is.) In other words, having children stresses the importance of rationality; many people are quite careless about their own lives in different ways but they are held to a higher standard (properly) when it comes to looking after their kids.

For me anyway, that helps to clarify in more detail some of the essential differences between "adult rights" and "children's rights".

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I would just clarify that it is specifically because the parents brought the child into the world, with full knowledge that the child could not survive without their guardianship, that the parents are responsible for the child.

Thanks for a very interesting and informative discussion.

:)

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The parent acts as custodian for the child's rights, until such time that the child is able to reasonably exercise those rights on his own. (In some cases that would be around the age of 45.  :) )

Not too far off. Check this out: Italians stay home with mom

:)

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First, an adult has a right to will to act in any way that he pleases, up to the point of violating somebody else's rights.

Not if he is in a custodial relationship, even temporarily. For instance, a hospital patient can't just up an decide he is going out to get a pizza because he doesn't like the liquid diet his doctor ordered.

Secondly, an adult can, within his rights, choose to take actions which are objectively harmful only to himself [...] A parent however has the obligation to act only beneficially for the sake of his child[...] many people are quite careless about their own lives in different ways but they are held to a higher standard (properly) when it comes to looking after their kids.

So are custodians and trustees for adults. It is called "fiduciary responsibility." A banker can blow all of his own money in Las Vegas, but he'd better not do that with the trust accounts he manages.

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Not if he is in a custodial relationship, even temporarily.  For instance, a hospital patient can't just up an decide he is going out to get a pizza because he doesn't like the liquid diet his doctor ordered.

Sure, though even there, as an adult, he could (as far as I know) decide to check out, and unless it was an emergency, he also decided to check in, presumably with knowledge of the constraints of the temporary situation. (This is assuming somebody of sound mind.) So he *can* eat pizza if he decides to leave the hospital of his own will. But if he literally *can't* leave of his own will (he is physically stopped), I would argue, not that the doctor "is the guardian of his rights", but that in fact the patient *doesn't* have certain rights any longer, or that they exist and have been violated. (The consequences of the action are his to face, his life is his own property. This isn't even necessarily an irrational decision - suppose somebody wanted to spend their last days dying of cancer, eating what they wanted and travelling for 2 weeks to someplace they never saw before, rather than letting a doctor patronizingly force them to stay, and die, in the hospital drinking something revolting.)

That is in direct contrast to the situation of a child, who does *not* have the right to leave the hospital because he wants pizza instead of the yucky liquid diet.

So are custodians and trustees for adults.  It is called "fiduciary responsibility."  A banker can blow all of his own money in Las Vegas, but he'd better not do that with the trust accounts he manages.

I suppose the overall point I'm thinking is that the idea that seems to be most applicable here is "legal guardian". I'm not sure that it's strictly accurate to characterize the parents' role as a "legal guardian of the child's rights" in the broadest sense - he is "legal guardian of the child". I think there's a difference. In essence he has the responsibility for the most fundamental of the child's rights, life. Or, when you say "legal guardian of the child's rights", do you mean that when a parent decides that the 6 year old will go to sleep at a certain time, not go certain places, etc., that the parents' decision is literally a surrogate for that child's nascent rights?

I don't deny the necessity or rationality of this relationship, I'm just not seeing this relationship as anything except the opposite of rights for the most part: there are many permissions involved, coming from the parent to the child. In other political contexts, it is clear that permissions must be firmly differentiated from rights, and that a right is a right, it originates from the will of the rights-holder, not from the will, and permissions, of another. A right is not a right if it is passed through the filter of another's permission.

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