misusing the concept of rights

The idea of inalienable rights is problematic because it can be used to excuse ourselves from the consequences of our actions by justifying those actions as originating outside of human choice or reasoning.


Rights cannot, of themselves, honestly be used as fundamental justification for any particular action: the underlying logic of particular rights, and the consequences of implementing them must always be accounted for if we are to act responsibly.  


Many people try to use the concept of rights to deflect their responsibility for the things that they do.  They claim that rights are not a human construct, and argue that the rights that they use are intrinsic, and that therefore they can apply them because to do so is an inherent aspect of human nature.  Or they claim that rights are extrinsic; that is, that they come from outside of themselves, and that therefore they can apply them because to do so is an aspect of an ultimate power, or of the nature of the Universe.


We can't morally or logically use the concept of rights to relieve ourselves of our responsibility for what we do.  That is, we can't say 'We have a right to clear this forest, even if, in doing so, we will destroy its ecosystem.'  We may well go ahead and clear the forest and bring about that destruction, but we won't be don't doing it because we have a 'right' to; we will be doing it because we choose to, because we have given ourselves the right to do so, and we must hold ourselves responsible for the consequences of what we do.


It's better that we accept the true nature of rights as a human invention, that can be used to shape our world for better or worse.  Humans are arguably the only living things that have come to understand the depth and breadth of the consequences of their actions, and that understanding gives us responsibility for the consequence of those actions.  


Rights are part of how we choose to create or maintain the word that we want live in – it's OUR choice, just as the consequence of that choice is ours.  


This page is linked from:

the nature of rights


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