Thursday, January 26, 2006

Axiom attic


Interesting little tiff going, here. I'm not going to try to trace it all back to its starting point, but a reasonable place to start is with Jon Henke's piece at QandO, "The Social Contract Market." Which, of course, resulted in a typical and terse Billy Beck rejoinder, and Henke returned fire. Some or all of this, in turn, inspired Dale Franks to weigh in, with deconstruction (and yes, I'm aware of the perils of using that word in the company referred to) from Beck following.

All very interesting, and thrown out for your enjoyment and edification ... but I'm not going to follow it all the way down to metaphysics here. I don't have to prove the validity of natural rights to invalidate Henke's case against natural rights. All I have to do is establish that his case is contradictory to his own position.

Resolved: If "rights" are a "social construct" which exist only on the basis of "mutual agreement," then the absence of such agreement explodes the construct. We may not like what someone does, but it's not a matter of "rights," and what they are doing is not "wrong." The desire of Anne Frank or Sharon Tate to live is of no more or less value than the desire of Adolf Eichman or Charles Manson to see her dead. It's just a conflict of preference, that's all. Anne Frank only has the "right" to live if the Nazis agree that she does. Sharon Tate only has the "right" to live if Tex and Squeaky concur.

Is this what Henke believes? If so, he's a monster and worthy of no further consideration. But although I don't know Jon Henke well, I do know him -- and I don't believe for a moment that he'd categorize the Holocaust or the Manson Family's rampage as mere matters of preference. If I'm correct, then he must perforce believe that "right" and "wrong" exist -- in at least some cases -- independently of some putative "social contract."

Simply put, an individual's "rights" are those things -- conditions of existence or freedom to act -- which it would be "wrong" for another to interfere with or destroy.

Granted, it is only in a social context that "rights" are revealed. If you're alone, there's nobody else to reveal them by respecting them or violating them. The fact that they are only revealed in that context, however, in no way implies that they only exist in that context, any more than the exposure of a gold vein in a mine implies that the gold didn't exist until the mineshaft was sunk across that vein or that it exists only where the mineshaft crosses it.

Politics is the mineshaft in which rights are visible. However, they also exist in, and are a product of processes which take place much deeper in, the earth that philosophy digs up looking for such things. Beck takes it down to the metaphysical "center of the earth." So I don't have to.

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