Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rights, Responsibilities, & Justice

So an apologist on Twitter put out a challenge and I thought, that seems easy enough. Not easy to convince her, per se, just easy to fulfill the task. Here it is:

I can take on the first three at once. I'll address the other two if we reach some agreement on the first three. Off we go:

Premise 1. People exist.
Premise 2. Most people don’t want to be hurt.
Premise 3. Most people don’t want to be alone.
Premise 4. Hurting others tends to cause either retaliation or isolation.
Premise 5. Most people meet the minimum intellectual requirements to notice the validity of the above premises from social experience.
Conclusion 1. (From premises) Hurting others is avoided by most people.

The concepts of rights, responsibilities, and justice all serve this conclusion. We collectively declare and acknowledge rights to each other, the most basic of which, the right to live, most obviously spawns from the syllogism. Responsibilities are then a drive to act acknowledging those rights. For example, I have the responsibility to acknowledge your right to live. Finally, justice is the method of enforcing adherence to responsibilities. If I cease to acknowledge your right to live and take your life, I face consequences. This tends to be physical punishment of imprisonment, an institutionalization of premise four.

I can’t hope to explain the entirety of ethics in a single post, but you can probably see how this same framework can be applied past a secular reason to not kill to a secular reason to not steal, rape, ect. It is indeed a deity-free basis for rights, responsibilities, and justice.


  1. Although this is valid and sound, logic is a poor substitute for reality. It would be more sound if you introduce the group evolutionary aspects of this reasoning. Note that your reasoning is fundamentally based on premises 2 and 3. This are not a given, except for social evolution and social animals. Social evolution provides a more solid ground than simple feelings.

    1. Yeah, but this is for an apologist. She's an astrophysicist, sure, but I still can't assume she accepts the Theory of Evolution. I try to keep evolution out of it.

      Premises 2 & 3 are a given because I say "most." I'd bet everything I have that I would end up on the happy side of a survey asking "Do you want to be hurt/alone?" Yes/No.

  2. Why are "wants" warrants for behavior?

    What constitutes "hurt"?

    What happens if most people want to not work, so they get together and decide to enslave all the other people? Is that therefore moral, because it's what most people want?

    Sometimes groups of people get together and hurt other people, and this increases group cohesion. These people will not be isolated, and if they are stronger than the people they hurt, retaliation is not a factor.

    1. "Wants" provide motivation to act a certain way. What you want is an incentive to act in a way to allows you to get it. What you don't want is a disincentive, prompting people to act in the way that avoids it.

      Hurt can mean pain, discomfort, loss, ect.

      True, sometimes one group hurts outsiders, but that doesn't mean that within the group rights/responsibilities/justice work as described and I provided a basis for those.

    2. That doesn't answer why wants are warrants, i.e. justifications. If someone wants his neighbor's car, should he take it? His want is a motivation to take it. He'll be happy if he does. He doesn't like his neighbor, so he doesn't worry about how his neighbor feels about it. How do you evaluate the goodness or badness of this situation within your derived morality?

      Is hurt always bad? Can it ever be good? Can it ever be deserved? Should it always be avoided?

      Is a large group of strong people justified in hurting a smaller group of weaker people? The strong people want what the weaker people have. If they kill the weaker people and take it, then most people will be happy. They don't need to worry about retaliation or being isolated. Is that good or bad?

    3. If he takes the car, there are consequences. He, the neighbor, and other observers see that the taker disregards the rights of the neighbor and his own responsibilities. The taker gets held responsible and forced to return the car/pay for it/serve time/or whatever applies in a given case.

      The basis for rights, responsibilities, and justice are there. Your further questions speak to the desire for them to be applied universally. I'll get into that, but first can you admit that the basis is valid between people who wish to socialize with each other? I can't expand until after we have common ground.

    4. Okay, I can't figure out how to continue replying in the thread above. Continuing here...

      All you're talking about is the avoidance of possibly unpleasant consequences. The police routinely disregard property crimes, because it's not worth their time. The thief might (correctly) judge that the risk is therefore worth it. So, why should the thief refrain from stealing? What justification does the neighbor have to object to his car being stolen? After all, morality is defined by wants, and the thief wants the car.

      What about the strong group vs. the weak group? Is it good, evil, neither?

    5. Can you really think of no secular reasons for a person not to steal? Even independent of explicit law enforcement officers, the neighbor could intervene directly killing the potential thief or getting killed by the potential thief, upping the thief's crime to murder with the weight of further consequences. The thief could be outted by the neighbor or an observer, which would result in consequences. Members of the group that do not adhere to their responsibilities are either cast out or otherwise punished when discovered and every transgression of another’s rights is a risk to be discovered. Sometimes they may get away with it, but every time is an understood risk.

      I never said morality is defined by wants and do not believe it is. I have simplistically defined rights, responsibilities and justice so far.

      Again, we can talk about outsiders after we agree this is a basis for in-group rights, responsibilities and justice.

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  4. I completely agree with you that responsibilities are an incentive to act and recognizing rights. In this life we ​​have a lot of responsibilities!