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The Contender
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Natural right do not exist

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/26/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,666 times Debate No: 17270
Debate Rounds (3)
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Natural rights:Fundamental human rights based on universal natural law, as opposed to those based on man-made positive law (
exist: To have actual being (

It is quite ironic that Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." He was obviously speaking like a politician. There is no way he could have actually believed any of this. The man owned slaves, for god's sake!

1) If something is natural, it cannot be changed unless it is somehow altered by another natural process. For instance, no one can take gravity away without the aid of some device that manipulates gravity through natural means, or by using a black hole.

2) Natural phenomena must be demonstrable. If we are to say something is natural, we must be able to demonstrate it using a falsifiable test. For instance, scientists have demonstrated how the earth formed through a slow process 4.6 billion years ago.

3) Rights do not posses any of these two characteristics.

a. Rights can easily be taken away without any resort to another natural process. For instance, rights have been historically restricted under specific cultural practices such as discrimination, segregation, and slavery. Those are only a few cultural practices that have been implemented to restrict rights to various groups of people.

b. Rights cannot be demonstrated to exist through a falsifiable test. The main problem is what definition of a right are we to test. We can test a tornado, an earthquake, a fire, etc. If we think of natural rights, there must be physical components to them. That's the problem: there aren't any. If I say the atmosphere is natural, I can take any component of the atmosphere, i.e. water vapor and other molecules, and demonstrate them. I cannot do anything remotely like this for natural rights. What would a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness look like? I bet the Native Americans and enslaved Africans could tell Thomas Jefferson what it would look like: a white lie.


It's unfortunate this debate has fallen apart from the start—it ought to be recapitulated, and I mean precisely that it should be surrendered by my opponent, since it is based on fallacious grounds.

Firstly, what's at stake here is rights, but my opponent has capitulated the problem as if it is based upon the following false dilemma: are rights natural or positive? My opponent should have done more homework especially if he is going to make an argument about law in a philosophical debate. What he has stipulated is that in the two different capitulations of law, namely natural and positive law, there is a definitive mark between the two—that is, put simply, my opponent assumes that natural and positive law are so different that one must pick between them. If my opponent had done his homework,—that is, by reading Robin George Collingwood's great essay "An Essay on Philosophical Method"—he would have realized that the concept law is such that it may be broken off into sub-classes of components and issues (i.e. rights, namely those which are posited and those which are natural); and as Collingwood has shown in this essay, a philosophical concept contains distinctions in its species, distinctions in the instances exhibiting the concept, such that one sub-class' instance may in fact be an instance of another sub-class (i.e. logic deals with specific instances of thought—categorical thinking, hypothetical thinking, dilemmas, and so forth—while ethics, practical philosophy, deals with action—and Collingwood's point, as exhibited in this parenthetical example, is that action is logical, but logic may be based on action, thus making the concrete fact these concepts deal with such that it may be analyzed as one unit, one thing, in two different frameworks,--such that they do not oppose one another, that is, the instance of one isn't the opposite of another, and, in fact, the real concrete instantiation exemplifies both concepts).

With this brief observation on the instantiation of a concept (law) into a sub-class (rights) into further sub-classes (natural and positive rights) one may find that the (concrete) thing in question, exhibits aspects of both—that is, and this is why this debate is based on a false dilemma, a right may be both natural and positive, and yet be separate instantiations of both. My opponent has clearly exemplified this in his fallacious ad hominem attack upon Thomas Jefferson: there are rights—life liberty, the pursuit of happiness—that can be predicated as natural, but they must be put forth by someone in order to be granted (posited?—hello!). That is, and this is my rebuttal to my opponent's false dilemma, put succinctly: to say that a right can't be one and has to be the other, is to claim that the coin only has one face.

Furthermore, the debate rests upon presuppositions which I submit to a brief critique, as they are absurd and bold, in such a way that only a simpleton would put forth (i.e. making an issue be chopped chopped its bi-polar positions). What the heck is meant by "natural?" It's unclear to me, moreover, but let's address this idea of "natural phenomena" (that is, the appearance of something in nature): it doesn't have to be demonstrable (that is, able to be shown from something else), and one doesn't need to qualify something as natural through falsifiable test—in fact, science can only progress by first noticing that something witnessed (a phenomenon) isn't understood (even though at the time we may not have the apparatus to understand it, we don't go on to assume the thing in question is man-made or the work of God, supernatural). (And, on this point of noticing phenomena and submitting them to testing or demonstration, notice that my opponent has stupidly assumed that scientists have demonstrated how the earth formed—they haven't demonstrated it, that's why it's called the big-bang theory, moreover, if something is to be submitted to falsifiable test in order to be qualified as a demonstrable natural phenomenon, have scientists put the earth's formation to a test?—have they created their own planet to show how planet's like our own, if they are any others like it, come about?—No, they haven't submitted it, nor shown this—and yet my opponent has drawn the proper conclusion that rights don't possess this characteristic, I don't even know how one would fasifiably test a right).

Moreover, my opponent hasn't asked the following pertinent question: what is human nature? Since he hasn't, his (alleged) undermining claim to the theory of natural rights (which I am saying is merely a philosophical way of looking at this thing called rights, much as positive law is, for they both hit on the same thing, again, rights) about rights being taken away by another natural process is absurd. Why does another natural process have to take rights away? Is not the violator of rights natural, and doesn't the violator of rights take rights away? But my opponent on this point would say that I've merely been foolish and over-looked his claim that culture does this, thus making it non-natural—however, I've yet to come across any type of person who thinks that culture is a non-natural process—were the first artifacts of human beings not naturally produced?—Oh, they were culturally produced, but isn't culture precisely natural to man?—My dog doesn't have a culture.

And it should be noted, aside from the false dilemma, aside from assumptions about philosophical problems, aside from assumptions about human nature, aside from assuming an absurd definition of "natural," my opponent has not even told us why he would bother using scientific method as the model by which he assesses a legal concept, rights.
It's unclear why the nature of law has not been addressed, since this debate is based upon two competing theories of law, both of which deal with the simple issue of where rights come from—and both are flowed when taken in mutual exclusion because man naturally comes from nature, and man posits or takes away the rights of another (by either granting them recognition or taking their life)—in fact, as is the case in many, heuristically juxtaposed, "competing" philosophical theories, both sides may in fact be assuming that the other side doesn't overlap with their own, I still can't understand why my opponent hasn't realized that the natural and positive distinction are not mutually intermeshed (instead of, as my opponent assumes, exclusive).

Lastly, this discrepancy between one theory of rights and another, both falling under the philosophical sub-discipline Philosophy of Law, is foolish, since even St. Paul recognized that law can only do so much (and, hence, rights can only do so much) but Grace can do things law isn't capable of (like making one care for one's neighbor, without being obliged to do so)—and with this in mind, it is clear that the issue is absolved once one realizes that discussion about rights can only move so far, for there are much higher components to the good life and morality that absolve these discrepancies (as Aristotle had noticed in his Nicomachaen Ethics, where, like St. Paul, Aristotle said Justice can only do so much, friendship exceeds it in capability—but is friendship natural? Or posited? Can we really separate them? Forget it!). And on this last point, what is the purpose of this debate anyway? Why are we even arguing this topic? Rights and law are inextricable from human life, even in anarchy law is present in its negative form, and so I don't get why my opponent thinks this debate will have any impact on anything, hence my beginning claim: my opponent ought to surrender this false dilemma—I mean, "debate."
Debate Round No. 1


First, this debate does not threaten rights in any way whatsoever. This debate is in regards to natural rights existing insofar as they are independent of humans. If anything, rights could be extended if conceived outside a natural framework.

Natural rights would be, as Jefferson claimed, "inalienable" because they are natural, outside of the control of men. History certainly does not justify this belief. What we would call "rights" have been alienated continually throughout history. I certainly was not arguing that rights were necessarily either positive or natural. Your critique is ,therefore, misguided. The definition I used was one from a common source, so if you have any problem with the definition, then you should not have accepted the debate before clearing that up. I am, more or less, arguing that "natural" rights are illusory and were maintained within the American spirit in order to privilege European colonial powers.

The distinction between culture and nature is contentious, but I was thinking there was enough common sense behind the terms. I wasn't using them in any analytical sense. Nature: the universe that encompasses humans, and culture: an entire way of life. Those are pretty common uses for the terms. It seems you have devoted the first half of your debate to disputing my definition of natural rights. If you had a problem with my definition, then, again, you should not have accepted the debate, or cleared up any problems before the debate.

You have asserted that rights can exist naturally and also be posited. The problem is they cannot exist naturally. Was every culture outside the Greek and European realm just too undeveloped to perceive "nature" in the proper way? After all, none of them ever conceived of rights in anyway similar to the Greeks or Europeans. This is the point of the debate: are rights natural? In Jefferson's social context, rights were considered natural. Folks like Jefferson believed Indians and blacks were too inferior to conceive of "nature," and were, therefore, inadequate to receive rights, or at least the same rights as whites. Why couldn't other cultures perceive what was apparently natural? I would say because the thing in question is not natural at all but a discursive formation of "law" used in order to privilege certain groups: men over women in ancient Greece and whites over non-whites in Europe. History certainly testifies to this.

I was only using my criteria in order to demonstrate the complexities that would arise from a framework of natural rights; therefore, your critique, aside from your improper conduct, is unnecessary. The reason I would use the scientific method to assess "natural" rights is that I would think if something is "natural," it could then be examined within a scientific framework, specifically within the "natural" sciences. After all, that's what the natural sciences do. (A couple small points: the Big Bang Theory has specifically nothing to do with the formation of the earth, and my point on that was scientists can demonstrate the several pieces of evidence that substantiate their overall claim.)

Your concluding points are misleading. Questioning "common sense" notions, what we might consider natural, is important in understanding the social and cultural structures that shape our lives. If rights are natural, then what purpose is there for anyone to ask for more?


poppinoffgrounds forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


joseffritzel forfeited this round.


poppinoffgrounds forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by ApostateAbe 6 years ago
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeit