What Are Human Rights?

magnifying-glass-68206_640A few days ago I got in an argument with a friend about what constitutes a human right. We argued back and forth, and it quickly became clear that we were not talking about the same thing. My definition of human rights was very different from his.

So what are human rights? A human right is something that all people possess at all times from conception onward. A right is something that you possess by virtue of being human. A right cannot be taken; it can only be violated.

With this in mind, it is easy to define human rights. All that is required to reach a definition is for us to see what things match each of these requirements. Upon doing this, we will be able to definitively say what human rights are.

What, then, do all people have from conception onward? The most readily apparent answer is life. Everyone has life from when the first receive it until they die.

Furthermore, when we look at the language used in the previous question, we see implied the concept of property, of possession. If you have life, then you possess life. If something is yours, then you possess it. Similarly, when you create something or put effort into making something usable, you own the results, and you can do what you want with them.

For example, if I were to acquire a piece of wood, then I would own it. If I were to then carve it into a toy horse, I would own that too. I could then transfer ownership of it to someone else because I own it and can do what I want with it.

This then brings up the topic of liberty. When you own something, it is yours and you are its master. If you decide to carve the wood, you can do that because it is yours. If you decide to sell the toy horse, you can do that too.

All of these rights, in reality, are property rights. Your life is your first possession, and because you possess it, you may do what you want with it. The right to life and liberty are both extensions of your property rights.

If we imagine an empty world, a world that has just sprung to life, with just one man, we can see how rights function in the real world. Obviously, the man is alive so he possesses life, and because he possesses his life, he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. If he wishes, he may cut down a tree, make a shovel, dig a mine, melt the ore, and make a gun. He could then proceed to fire the gun in any direction that he wants. He has no restraints.

When the man was in the process of acquiring a gun, he was doing what we call work. Note that he did not have a right to work, but rather by working  he was exercising his liberty. Also, he did not have a right to a gun, but he could work to make one, and when he had it, he owned it.

Now imagine that a second man is placed into this hypothetical world. Suddenly, the man with the gun must cease firing in the direction that the other man stands because doing so threatens the life of that man. The first man does not own the second man, so he has no right to do anything to him without his consent. He loses the liberty to fire the gun in the direction of the other man because they are equals and he has no natural right to take that man’s life.

Finally, the two men meet, and they make an agreement. However, before this happens, a third man appears. The two men ask the third man to be the enforcer of their agreement, and agree to pay him for his services. The first man agrees to transfer the gun to the second man in return for half of the food that the second man kills with it, and they both agree to then give a third of what they have to the third man. When the men make this agreement, they are both giving the other the right to force them to comply, and they do this by means of the third man. If one man decides not to uphold his end of the bargain, he has agreed to be forced to do it. He no longer has the liberty to not do what he has agreed to do.

I like this example because it clearly demonstrates the right to life, liberty, and property, as well as the intricacies of contracts. This then provides us with some insight into what rights are and how they work. For more reading on the subject, I would recommend this article, which is a good bit shorter than this one. Hopefully this provides some insight into rights, and hopefully I will be able to expound upon this in the future.

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