Rights and metaphysics

One of the more bizarre comments that medieval peasants did have rights, the fact that they did not know about these rights and were unable to exercise them did not matter, the rights existed.

The problem with that is that it is an absurdity. The point of a right is to be able to exercise that right, The fact that a right is claimed, or even exists, which is unable to be exercised makes it irrelevant.

For example, Dred Scott v. Sandford pointed out that slaves were property and were unable to exercise rights. In fact, slavery is the big bugaboo in the inalienable right argument: after all, can someone consent to be a slave? The ability to renounce a right would mean it is not truly inalienable.

But, even more importantly, even if a right is declared to exist, as is the case with the Palestinian right of return which is guaranteed under UN General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948 and Article 13(2), Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but is denied by another power (I.e., Israel), that right is non-existent.

Thus, one can claim a right, but unless there is some method of enforcing and being able to enjoy that right, the right is meaningless.

Next, we come to the topic of “God Given Right”. How is a right given to you by God? Revelation? Scripture? The problem is that there is no Biblical reference to rights. If one is referring to natural rights as being god given, that again places them in the area of interpretation. Anyone can claim anything as their natural or god given right. For example, Sex is natural and I have a god given right to sex, but doesn’t the woman have a god given right to refuse to have sex with me? To use Paul Treanor’s example:

A human right is an ethical construction used to justify a harmful act against another person, by claiming that undergoing the harmful act is an absolute moral entitlement, and that accordingly the harmful action can not be judged morally wrong. For instance, a man who wants to rape a woman would say, that women have a ‘right to sex’, and that his action was beyond moral judgment, because in raping the woman he was respecting a universal right.

The problem is that God Given, or natural rights, are man-made creations, not divine one. The claim of divine imprimatur gives the spurious right an aura of truth, but what is the actual support for such a claim of the right’s existence? Again, unless there is societal consent and ability to enforce that right, the right is meaningless.

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