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LostInParadise's avatar

Is it self-evident that we are born with unalienable rights?

Asked by LostInParadise (25660points) July 2nd, 2010

In the spirit of the July 4 holiday, I thought it would be of interest to examine the assumptions stated in the Declaration of Independence, much of it derived from the philosophy of John Locke.

The colonists certainly had legitimate gripes against the British government, but I do not believe that derived from any rights that we are naturally born with. These rights are social constructs, deriving in part from a moral sense that we are born with. It took a long time for the idea of democracy to take hold, so I would say that these rights are less than self-evident. Britain at the time, with its parliamentary government, was further along the path to democracy than any other nations. What was particularly annoying to the colonists was the discrepancy between the rights that British citizens had and the treatment that they were subject to, especially since at the time most colonists were either British immigrants or descendants of them.

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13 Answers

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

In today’s American it is not evident that the rights Americans grew up believing they they had are still available to them in light of legislative changes pushed through in the previous administration.

I know July 4th stirs patriotic feelings, but if you really believe in the founding principles of your country, I suggest you get actively involved in the process of change that might just restore rights eroded over the years.

Happy Fourth of July.

jazmina88's avatar

This country was based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now the government tries to control some of those things.
Where has that free spirit gone??

RedPowerLady's avatar

It took a long time for the idea of democracy to take hold

Not quite true. In fact many of these ideal were based on what Native societies had in place already. So there were, in fact, around and established for quite some time. It just took awhile for some people to find a way to make democracy work with their vice, capitalism.

I do not think that our rights are necessarily a social construct. I do think there is the possibility that they are truly natural. But willing to consider another possibility.

kenmc's avatar

When I read the word “self-evident” I think of the word “obvious”.

I don’t believe that it is necessarily self-evident but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It just takes a bit of thinking to realize it.

marinelife's avatar

If you don’t accept the premise that man is born with inalienable rights, why would you fight for democracy to exist?

I do believe in those rights for everyone.

Cruiser's avatar

I think you do embrace the self evident part at some point in your life after getting back up after being pushed down, after enduring verbal attacks, after giving away over ½ your pay check in taxes after taxes you do realize that “hey dangit…I am somebody and deserve some respect”!!

ETpro's avatar

Personally, I do not believe that we are endowed by any creator with any unalienable rights. If it were so, I would expect that creator to intervene to ensure such rights, and from the long history of oppression by government, we know that doesn’t happen overnight. We also know, though, that evil governments that suppress the rights pointed to in the Declaration of Independence face constant pressure to change, and generally do not last long. So John Locke may well have been on to something fundamental about human psychology.

mattbrowne's avatar

It is an outcome of cultural evolution.

LostInParadise's avatar

As a side note, I do hope that all of you from the U.S. recognize the phrases “self-evident” and “unalienable rights” as coming from the Declaration of Independence. If not, I don’t want to know about it.

nicobanks's avatar

I guess I do think we have inalienable rights, but I think more about natural laws. Murder, for instance: I think it’s wrong; so, by extension, sure, that does mean we have a right to life, but I think it’s more useful to think of it the other way ‘round.

Also, when I say things like inalienable and natural, I don’t mean state-of-nature type things. I mean who we are now, which is social, self-conscious creatures, two facets about us that I believe strongly influence not only our relationship with (and duties/rights concerning) each other and the world around us, but also God. I also think we evolved into the creatures we are now.

So, yes, to summarize, I do believe we are born with inalienable rights and responsibilities.

Is that self-evident? Not really… what IS self-evident?

josie's avatar

If you are not entitled to your life and the freedom to live it, then to whom to does it belong, and who gets to call the shots for you. The Founders were comfortable saying that this basic question can be answered by saying that this entitlement is endowed by a Creator. But even if you do not believe in a Creator (I do not) the question still stands. Is your life actually YOURS, or is it somebody else’s. Before you can talk about social interaction, and before you can talk about government, you have to know the answer to this question. Is the answer not self evident. Stop and experience yourself for a second. You are your own, not somebody else’s It IS self evident. If it is not, than all of us are the property of somebody else.

LostInParadise's avatar

@nicobanks , Rights and responsibilities are two opposing things. The trick is to find the balance between them. The Declaration of Independence starts off talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is hard to argue against having these rights, but then again the British were not directly opposed to them. Further down, the document discusses issues like taxation and political representation, which gets a bit more complicated.

ratboy's avatar

It’s self-evident that no rights are inalienable—for each right, there is someone that has had it taken from him.

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