Human Rights in Relation to Ethics, Morality & Aesthetics
June 15, 2010 · Posted in Philosophy
I want to set something straight for future reference.
Ethics, as I explained before, is the process of examining the logical consistency (validity) and the empirical proof (accuracy) of statements regarding universally preferable human behavior.
If a statement about preferable human behavior cannot be logically universalized it automatically fails the test of validity and can be discarded easily. For example, the proposition “Theft is universally preferable.” faces a rather insurmountable logical contradiction. If it was universally preferable to steal things from others, then that would mean that, in order for the victim to be in compliance with this theory, he would need to prefer non-ownership to ownership. But the thief only steals something in order to obtain ownership over that thing. But then ownership would have to be both valid and invalid at the same time, valid for the thief and invalid for the victim. But then theft cannot be universally preferable, since it can’t be applied to all humans at all times and at all places.
The issue of rights falls right into the realm of ethics, in particular morality, that subset of ethics that deals with logically consistent universal rules involving the use of violence.
In common debates, the term is used all too often without any clear conceptualization behind it. The most helpful and most consistent way to define a right is, in my opinion, only this:
A right is a universally defensible claim.
For example, when I say “Everyone has a right to his body.”, then what I am really saying is: “Everyone has a universally defensible claim to his own body.” And what I am really saying with that is: “It is a logically consistent proposition to say that all humans at all places at all times may violently assert their ownership over their own bodies when aggressed against.”
This is a logically consistent and thus a completely valid proposition. It faces no inner contradictions.
This works in exactly the same way with the proposition “I have a right to my property.”
In this manner we can also easily test propositions such as “Healthcare is a fundamental human right”. This proposition would more precisely read “Every sick human has a right to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” This could be translated into: “Every sick human has a universally defensible claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.” or “Every sick human may violently and universally assert his claim to another human’s resources to heal his own illness.”
This proposition faces several severe challenges:
- By introducing the word “sick”, one has left the realm of universality. To say that “only a sick human being has a universally defensible claim …” is an inherently contradictory statement. The criterion for universality is that it apply to all humans at all times and at all places, not just to certain humans with certain conditions.
- Another problem is that we have already proven above that every human being has a right to his property and in particular to his body. Even if introducing the term “sick” was valid, the above proposition breaks down because it is logically inconsistent to say that a person has a right to his body and his property but another person simultaneously has a right to this same person’s body or property. So in order to proceed on the proposition at hand, one would first need to disprove the validity of the, so far, valid theorem of self-ownership and property rights.
- Another possibility would be to remove the term “sick” from the proposition in order to rescue its universality. But the problem with this would be that the proposition would read “Every human being has a universally defensible claim to another’s owned goods and body parts.” This proposition, however, is equivalent to the one of theft, which suffers from inner logical contradictions. If one had a claim over another’s property or body that may be violently asserted, then he would never have a defensible claim to the obtained goods. But the very objective of such an action would be the assertion of such a claim. Thus the proposition is invalid.
To be sure, the moral invalidity of such a violently asserted right to health care in no way discourages from the validity of other potential ethical propositions, in particular in the field of aesthetics, which deals with propositions involving non-violent behavior such as, “It is universally preferable to help suffering people in need.”
It is just important to understand that rights are fundamentally a concept that falls in the realm of morality, meaning that of universally preferable behavior involving violence, not in the realm of aesthetics, which deals with all other universally preferable behavior propositions.