Cafe Inquiry

Cafe Inquiry is our monthly casual get-together to meet people and discuss topics of science and humanism.

This month's discussion topic:

Are there inalienable human rights?

The concept of “inalienable” or “natural” rights has served as a justification for revolutions against tyranny; for the establishment of egalitarian, “social contract”-based states; and for international accords recognizing the importance of human rights.

However, this concept also implies that inalienable rights come not from governments or legal systems, but either from a divine creator or arising from the self-evident, natural order of things.

There has been philosophical debate as to whether this concept of “inalienable” or “natural” rights makes sense.  (http://www.ditext.com/bentham/bentham.html)

Do rights exist that have not been granted by a state and that cannot be rescinded by a state? 

If one does not hold a theistic view of the universe, can one hold that rights can come from something other than an earthly authority?

If rights can only come from earthly authorities, is the concept of inalienable rights a misnomer?

 

Can we claim that a universal set of human rights exist outside the rights granted by governments?

No outside food or drink allowed. Free and open to the public.

Interested in leading a discussion or have someone to recommend? Please contact us at mhensley[at]centerforinquiry.net or call[masked]-0960.

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  • Jeff

    Hi everyone - it's great that you're talking about these issues, but every time someone comments *all* of our membership gets an email - and it's getting quite spammy. If you would like to continue the conversation, please do so in private messages rather than on this page. Thank you. This message thread is now closed.

    1 · May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    The "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence, did not mean absolute rights. (As just one example, Jefferson advocated for the death penalty as punishment for some crimes, so he couldn’t have considered life, to be an absolute right that was unforfeitable).

    The rights were 'unalienable' because they could not be given away or 'alienated,' a legal term still used to define rights when selling property. One could not sell his right to liberty or otherwise jettison his right to life or the capacity to own property (in the Lockeian formulation Jefferson borrowed from). These rights could, however, could be forfeited by superseding rights and responsibilities, viz self defense, war, capital punishment (even if the practice itself is not justified), and others. I offer this only as a jumping off point for defining what we mean when talking about natural or inalienable (or unalienable) rights.

    May 28, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Yes and I think we are in agreement on this, with you adding some excellent points!

      May 28, 2013

    • David A.

      I would love to respond to this notion but not on this forum and I type too slowly to want to answer it here.

      May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    cancelling due to rain and leg trouble. Best wishes for the discussion.

    May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    In simplest terms, Jefferson and his contemporaries understood inalienable rights to be universal rights that one has as a member of the human race. They were part of the ‘Natural’ law in that they accrued based on our nature, and could be observed and discovered in the natural order, and—for most, including Jefferson—they were ultimately bestowed by nature’s God, a higher creative and lawgiving power. Sam Harris (the atheist neuroscientist and philosopher) in his book, The Moral Landscape, has made the most forceful case I have heard or read, that a rational, moral understanding and 'authority' derives from brain chemistry and the instinct of sentient beings to avoid pain.

    As one theist debater recently questioned though, "if we are all just dust and atoms banging around with no ultimate meaning or purpose, then why is robbery, homicide or the holocaust wrong? Why is pain or anything 'right or wrong' in a random, purely material universe? What could that even mean?"

    May 28, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Likewise. Btw, I thought your question was excellent. A difficult one - how can morality or rights be anything more than a social convention, in some sense agreed-to, if there is not a higher power. Do you believe in objective rights?

      May 28, 2013

    • David A.

      Robert, it appears that your question to me was private as I cannot find it on the CFI Meetup page. And it is silly for me to answer a question that is not displayed.

      May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Just a note that may provide some food for thought. The term inalienable rights has often been misunderstood my is moderns to mean an absolute right, ie that trumps all others or has no exceptions.

    May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I love talking with people who think.

    1 · May 28, 2013

  • Good C.

    I am not 100% certain if I can make tonights'
    Meet-Up.

    May 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    "When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam" Natural Law Document Areopagitica (1644) -we derive our right to be our own "chooser" by our ability to reason for ourselves.

    May 25, 2013

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