Yes, but not how you think
Sometimes, even very smart people can be thoroughly convinced of the veracity of some position they hold…right up to the moment where they suddenly become not so sure.
For an example, see this post and comments over on the QandO Blog. The comments are extensive, but what they reveal is that those arguing that natural rights do not exist were initially arguing against a bad formulation of their own design. Of course, the easiest way to stand effectively against some position is to be afforded (or take) the opportunity to state, in your own terms, the tenets of the position you are about to argue against. One should always try to find the best arguments that support (or deny) the position one intends to debate.
If you follow the comments in that entry, you’ll eventually notice how the debate changes, once those claiming that natural rights don’t exist are confronted with the prospect of arguing against what natural rights really are (rather than the strawman argument they’d erected to later knock down).
Here were my contributions (with a few edits for clarity):
Having read a good deal of the comments at this point, I can’t help but conclude that Dale and Jon set up a strawman (unintentionally), and then proceeded to knock it down.
So far as I can tell, everything the two of you have mentioned as the basis of natural rights is indeed false. So, I’m not surprised that you don’t think they exist. If that’s all I had to go on, I’d be worried too.
Billy has been poking holes, trying to get you to get to the right answer on your own, and McQ and McP have been helping you to form a definition, piece by piece.
It’s always best if you can get there yourself. Let me add another piece I haven’t seen mentioned by anyone. Hopefully it’s of some satisfaction, as I did see one of you complain that rights were an abstraction without any referents to reality.
How about choice?, which is as concrete as can be. Right now, sitting there, you and every human being on earth has a choice that is as natural as you can get, and applies to no other animals, so far as we know. That choice is to continue to pursue your life or not—to purposely default on its requirements, or even to explicitly bring it to a close, if you choose. This choice is not granted by anyone else, and it cannot be conveyed to anyone else, in part, because they already have it for their own part.
It applies to everyone equally, at all times—this choice—and it is a product of the nature of human beings through and through.
Now, without finishing the whole thing, can anyone tell me what this natural, concrete, real-as-hell choice implies, as an aspect of human nature?
Someone gives it a shot.
You draw upon the very first implication of this natural choice, which is, by concrete nature, that we have no choice in the matter of whether to choose. We are, by nature, beings who must choose whether to pursue that which is necessary to advance our lives, or not. Refusing to choose is no less of a choice, and amounts to a default on one’s life.
So, if, by nature, we must choose, what does it naturally imply? Let’s look at it this way: see how absurd it would be, once recognizing this inherent choice we have, to then say, "yes, but, everyone who chooses to pursue his life instead of default on it or end it must ultimately get the permission of everyone else."
affords uscompels this choice, then it is our choice by nature, which means, it is our right, by nature. It would be absurd to argue that we have a choice imposed upon us by our nature as human beings, but no natural right to make such a choice. The inherent choice subsumes the right to choose.
So, there you have a basic derivation of the natural right to life. The other rights are derivative, for, in order to exercise the natural choice to live, one must naturally be able to acquire things like property and associations with others.
This inherent choice is actually pretty handy. Not only can you derive rights, but morality too. Anyone want to give it a shot?
I’m defending my life, not my rights.
Most fundamentally, what you are defending is your natural choice in the disposition of your life (reference my previous comments). That is what nature compels you to do, and you can’t get around it, and because you can’t get around that choice, it is your natural right. You can choose to defend yourself (directly or by flight), or you can choose not to, and take whatever consequences come. If you choose not to choose, you still have made a choice.
Of course, if I start poking a grizzly bear with a stick, he’ll defend himself, as well.
Or, he’ll flee (not likely, but animals do one or the other). Nature afforded them no choice in the matter. They are not compelled to choose anything because their behavior is just automatic. They can’t act either actively or passively in their own destruction, so rights and morality don’t apply to them.
Nature made animals one way—survival of the fittest. They all operate within their natural capabilities to forward their own lives and reproduce.
Nature gave us a choice in the matter, and that is our source of natural rights and morality.
Choices – a ’right’ isn’t a matter of choice. It’s either a right, or it’s not.
Our actions are a matter of choice. Nature mandates that you must choose which actions you will undertake with respect to the advancement or ending of your life. Since this choice is mandated, you have a natural right to choose to further your life. Accordingly, you have a natural right to life, and all that derives from that politically.
My final post and summary to the comment thread:
Having only had time to skim the comments since my last, I have a final little summary.
Those who refuse to lose the mysticism will never understand natural rights. You cannot reconcile God or the supernatural with natural rights, and all those who argued against natural rights on that basis are completely correct.
Natural rights and natural objective morality is not anything about mysticism, lightning bolts from the sky, burning bushes, judgment day, or anything like that.
Morality is objective and natural, and is simply a recognition of the nature of human beings, i.e., we are compelled to choose whether to pursue values, disvalues, or not choose. That’s all morality is. The moral actions are those rational actions that attempt to gain values in rational furtherance of an individual’s life, and the immoral are those actions that are opposite (disvalues), or default.
All of this reduces to concretes. There’s no mysticism. Moral judgments are value judgments, and those values are tied to the natures of things. It all comes back to human nature. To draw an analogy, it’s a horror when I come home and see my wife trying to put picture hangers into the wall with my framing hammer, or, cutting through a loaf of bread with my German-made meat carving knife. The essential difference between my "outrage" when I see that abomination to the nature of some inanimate objects, and when I see the rights of human beings being violated is that I value human life far more than I do hammers and knives. But, the way the abstractions reduce to concretes is exactly the same, and there’s no hocus-pocus involved.