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do rights actually exist?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/3/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 697 times Debate No: 102878
Debate Rounds (3)
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Hello everyone, this debate will be about whether the idea of rights actually exists. When I say rights, I mean things like rights to property, arms, expression, and anything else mentioned in the bill of rights and other such things. I will be taking the position that such things do not exist, and are merely "spooks of the mind" as Max Stirner would call them. Before I give my evidence for such things, let me clear up a misconception readers of this debate will probably formulate, which is:

I am not saying that I am against freedom of the individual, (If you saw my profile you would find quite the opposite) I am more saying that being born with a set of things that you are inalienably endowed to is more a restriction than a freedom. Because if someone can be inalienably endowed with a right at birth, then how come it varies so greatly depending on one's culture, social class, and religion? Rights are merely a combination of cultural social constructs and political pacification. My reasons are:

1. If rights are inalienable and permanent, then how come they are ever-changing?
People's definition of what inalienable rights are have been changing since the dawn of civilization. For instance, in colonial and early America, an American citizen had the right to own slaves. While in modern America, people now have the right not be owned as slaves. Which is funny because now the U.S and other Capitalist nations practice slavery on an international (rather than national) level, effectively violating their own constitution. On the other hand, other cultures in Asia and Africa have a completely different view on what an individual's rights are and where they end. Also, people can use religion as both a deterrent and a driving force behind the idea of rights. For example, individuals in America used Religion to enslave and later heavily segregate black citizens, yet later used it as way to promote equality for all people and end segregation.

2. If these rights are natural, were the first humans alive on the earth truly able to receive these rights?
If you can truly claim that all people are unconditionally given natural rights upon birth, then how come so many throughout history have been denied them. Actually, about 95% of humans throughout history have not been able to have access to these so called "unalienable rights." They are being infringed upon by culture, religion, world views, and economic circumstances. (Do you think people in South Sudan are able to bask in the unalienable right that is social security?) Indonesian men, women, and Children making cheap clothes for a few cents per hour and working incredibly long hours every day are certainly not able to enjoy basic labor rights available in america....despite the fact that they are working for american corporations.

(I will mention more points for my argument after I am rebutted by my opponent. I will also mention how people may rid themselves of the idea of rights.)


Good thing this is philosophy. I don't have to be politically correct and I am free to use any abstract or metaphysical example.

I would like to point out the focus here is 'do rights exist?'. In your first sentence you emphasize about the 'idea of rights' which is no doubt existent. The fact you are able to type 'rights' and even expand on it marks that the idea is observable, researchable and manifestable making it existent. The idea of creationism exists yes but is that the real story? The idea of God exists but what about God? It's widely taught even in science schools. Now then if something is ever-changing does it already mean it doesn't exist? So since God never changes that's a strong proof for his existence? I agree religion is an instrument of abuse and peace. I know I'm disregarding a lot of the things you have previously mentioned but this is because I'd like to focus on the theme here which on my side is proving an abstract to be existent and I'll at least try to tackle some.

Restriction to freedom? You expect early humans to discipline themselves without guidelines like rights? The 10 commandments is enough? It's simple to make a law condemning murder without a political basis? We have no system of rights to even make proper laws. Any law could be made. A random proclamation to wage war without our freedom to information we'd die given a self-concerned government. If not only rights didn't exist but the idea also, no one would have a single thought about having a responsibility to educate a child and probably make him work 24 hours without any standardised text dictating what we shouldn't do to the poor thing because he/she has no clue of rights. He has an idea of freedom but he doesn't even have a right to speak it out. Eventually with all the next wave of abuses, rights will arise to be standardised. A time without the right to habeas corpus. You probably haven't been imprisoned forcefully without a warrant of arrest. You would directly be in jail at the hands of saddists with no ability to present yourself in trial. Everyone will be awake holding a gun knowing the possibility of griefers protecting their property themselves cause the state doesn't recognise nor guarantee any right and will not do anything to anyone that will be violated in any process another man makes.

It's like questioning if happiness exists because some people don't fully or always experience happiness, they have mood changes or even they weren't naturally happy in the first place because they were crying when they were babies (pointing at your reason 2) Take it into context I'm just giving a comparison to think about.

Rights aren't natural. Whether you get a Bible and find verses stating God made it, the only thing observable is that throughout history man had to make rights for proper guidelines about themselves and others. Those first humans were still developing and busy exploring and could not have received rights because no predecessor could hand or educate it to them for the full grasp of the idea was not yet formed. They soon developed civilisations and critical thinkers implanting ideas about people and rights were born. They reevaluated it and so which rights should be mentioned are constantly subject to change. I'd be the first to admit all people aren't unconditionally given natural rights. For anyone in this world to be granted a job, they have to know how to do that job. For anyone to comprehend his/her full rights, one must dive in to any medium of education that states all those rights. Children gain rights as they mature this way and generally at adulthood gain full rights but must be fully knowledgeable of these in order for the matured one to use them properly. Laborers have rights, so as Women and there are further laws to protect them giving them a right to justice but some don't know and they don't get their justice.

Infringement by religion? Religion is a primary medium in exercising basic rights like the right to life. Humans are taught not to kill at a young age, 100% guaranteed? Never. Freedom to religion is a right itself but the true point here is whether it is recognised globally which I say No. Rights are fully apprehended in some places and rights are poorly treated in other places. You cannot say there is only evil because it is what you see. Consider this informal statement: Some are lucky to get their rights upheld at all times until death and some are very unfortunate theirs were trampled and they were not given justice. Regarding culture, I'll generally agree and disagree considering the situations you have yet to specifically unfold.

You are specifically pointing at underaged and abused people I believing working those long hours. The abused people may file cases given they have something similar to a labor act protecting them and stating their minimum wages. We have the Fair Labor Standards Act for these children protecting their opportunity at education in America but the same cannot be safely associated with other countries. If not, it is subjective matter to say that because some people hate long hours and some people have greater insight to why they're working for long hours.

You propose ridding ourselves of the idea of rights. I'd like to hear a counterpart from you before judging you. How are you going to protect the rest humanity without the idea of rights? Will no rights absolutely solve everything you are concerned about? Maybe I'm mistaken and you have some specific ideas to get rid of that you will further mention in your next points.

Now then to my philosophical points. Rights do strongly exist. We read it, we mention it, we understand it and we politically discuss it but I agree these are not enough. The argument previously mentioned can be said yet never prove the existence of God. I'm going to investigate by comparing rights to another abstract, Math. Math is a human creation but it is not arbitrary or illogical, it just means humans have spent a long time perfecting it. It is a language. It evolves from simple terms to an elaborate language used to convey heavy ideas (Captain Jack, 2013).

The major difference here is that the application of math has not backfired and there's always an answer/s and the application of rights is quite flawed. One, two, three is real but the right to vote isn't? It's already manifested we may not only just vote but really vote and do it because it's our right. Now a realisation here would be, we could actually vote without having the specific right mentioned. We can live without the right to live but here it already is, rights. We could be moral without religion but religion is already there further helping some to be moral. We can even believe in a god without religion. Just belief in a god is enough and not go through some system but it's there. I'll save a few points too.

We would live without the right to live but presently, I have the right to live.
Debate Round No. 1


Hello and thank you for responding to my debate, I found your argument well informed, thorough, and quite witty. I think I will enjoy this debate.

You are right that the main focus of the argument is if rights actually exist or not, and I suppose you are right that they exist in an abstract sort of way. Just as Creationism, God, morality, and any other such thing which supposedly exists but may not be the real story. I guess if you look at things that way, Santa Claus exists, (or at least the idea of him) regardless of what is true. In my opinion, the same goes for rights, they were created to fill the void of an empty, strange world and to give people a sense of safety familiarity in a tough, savage world, but that is only if you look at it optimistically. Some say they were created by kings, theocrats, priests, and oligarchs to make the people feel like the state's power was not absolute. When in reality, it pretty much was. Since the beginning of time, societies have demanded physical, mental, and ideological control from their people and are willing to use whatever method possible to achieve it. Whether it be religion, violence, superstition, or ironically: Rights.

Yes, I believe it is possible for early humans to discipline themselves without guidelines such as rights, but my belief is that early declarations of rights (such as the ten commandments) were meant to exact idealogical control over the people, rather than liberate them. Plus, the ten commandments was a declaration of what someone couldn't do rather than what they could do, and I personally find it rather sad that people obeyed it without question mostly because they believed it to be divine, rather than obeying it because they sincerely agreed with it. They were willing to kill homosexuals, castrate adulterers, force girls to be married in their early teens to men they barely even knew (let alone liked) just because someone in authority (God) told them to. So yes, I wholeheartedly believe it was possible for society to discipline themselves without things like the ten commandments or the equally oppressive Hammurabi's code.

Also, most of the bad things you say would happen without people having rights already exist despite them. Self-concerned government? Check. Making children work very long hours with no education and little food, water, or other necessities? Check. I do agree that right to a fair trial is a positive thing, and so are labor laws. Yet these must not be inalienable because they are probably being infringed upon as we speak. They only exist on a national level and many are being denied these and many other such rights, yet they still choose not to fight for these "rights" or do anything about their unfortunate situation, partially because of the idea of rights.

Another reason why I am opposed to the Idea of rights is because even if they were a part of an Ideal society, why should they be able to be given to you by a government? In your ideal world, would rights be constant on an international level? A national level? A regional level? etc. Would these rights be available to all, or those who are part of a particular race, social status, belief- set, or anything else. (Im not trying to be confrontational I'm simply just wondering.)

Infringement by Religion? Religion allows for the greatest violation of rights because they majority of them teach that there is an ideal way for people to live their lives. They specify this down to how one acts, thinks, and even feels. Even if it does not directly advocate for it, (even though many do) some Religions encourage people to persecute, harass, and harm those who do not fit into their specific moral code. So if one has the right to physically force their religious, moral, and cultural views on others...then i suppose I would be opposed to rights. (P.S I am not trying to generalize religious individuals or religions, I know many and have the utmost respect for them

In response to what you said about Children able to receive labor rights, these rights are only applicable in the United States of America, where very few Children and Adolescents even have to have jobs. Even if they do, they are probably going to be working at a small business or some other semi-expendable job. (Even though this has only been the case for the last 60 so years, before that children could not pursue their educations because them having jobs were necessary for the financial well-being of their families, and the bosses could afford to pay them as little as possible and make them work incredibly long hours, and even then rights existed....but where were they to protect these 8 year-olds working like slaves in coal mines, factories, and cotton mills?) This is not the case for modern children in other countries, underfed african six year olds mine cobalt in for very long hours and practically nonexistent wages, Entire families work 65 + hour weeks in Indonesia to produce clothes that americans can buy cheaply. I know this sounds like a tangent but my point is, all of these people are under the illusion that they have unalienable rights....when in reality they do not.

My point is if people rid themselves of the positive aspects of rights as an abstract idea, they also rid themselves of the negative aspects of rights. Without the idea of rights, people might actually be more aware if their situation was just or not, they might view their lives differently and would be less afraid to fight unfair authority and injustice without the fear of getting their rights taken away.

If I were to summarize my rebuttal, it would sound like this: Rights exist in a philosophical sense, (as Ideas) but do not exist in society as they are a way of making people dependent upon the society in which they live....and they can get quite ridiculous too. For instance, no government/society can give you the right to live, the right to have a fair trial, the right to bear arms, etc.


I personally believe humanity needs any medium of education(formal or informal) to discipline themselves. Well formal education is necessary to humans like how the ten commandments are necessary for catholics but there's always a choice not to follow them and smoke weed in front of your teacher or steal your neighbour's wife. Both exact idealogical control but the better point with education is that one is ideologically dictated to be molded to what society needs such as engineers, doctors, teachers or priests through well-defined texts and contexts. Both step on freedom but education has given you insight to understand your points and my arguments. A lot of things exact ideological control but some are for the betterment
of most people. Even the pledge of allegiance to America has "Under God" which supposedly breaks the first amendment and a certain text in the bill that states the law will not interfere nor violate religion with its political stance. Parents exact that control so you don't end up as bad as someone they'll compare to.

The availability of rights and to whom holds and deserves it have been already mentioned in my first argument but to sum it all up again, Rights are not available to all and only full knowledge of rights gives full privileges. If I didn't know any labor law protecting me as a student, I believe my father would have already home-schooled me and make me find a high-salary job. They are for everyone but sadly all possible rights don't belong to everyone.

Again, Education System implements an ideal way and for some students , an absurd way to live spending five to ten hours at school dictated by what logic or solution should they use to factorise algebraic expressions and perhaps expose students to a place with the high probability of being introduced to bad influences. Health classes even specify what we shouldn't always eat and how to shape our body properly. Religious classes are a bit more crazy teaching to forgive your enemies and don't fight back. So here's something that has the right to psychically force religious, moral and cultural views on others so you're opposed to rights yes but do you also then oppose the education system? P.S. I didn't like history because I had to study at least twenty-five different cultures of our country.

I'm not defending the religious system also because I'm an atheist, formerly Catholic having seen its flaws. I'm only exerting that another bodily system has always implied idealogical control and has controlled many like you to type english, and steps on our freedom but also successfully molds a cognisant and diverse human.

Yes I have admitted in the previous argument that I cannot associate the act for other countries concerning labor for children and do not wish to rebut what is plain to see.

Yes agreeable that people especially lawyers have dependence on the Bill of rights and what is specified in it which makes moral fights less effective against the laws of the land of a nation.

The American government is very active in protecting and acknowledging rights though not for all people and not at all times but they don't give you those rights. The Bill of Rights dictates what your rights are and surprisingly society can introduce you to rights in your region or in other regions provable with the social learning theory. A community that is actively against suicide will come to remind one another to value their right to life.
Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by John_C_1812 2 years ago
To express what is often overlooked.

The Bill of Rights comes after the United States Constitution. It is by declaration the First Ten Amendments made to the United States Constitutional judicial separation process.

Once passed any Bill is no longer the same, it is an Act or Statute. So at this point in history it is believe that the expression is Statutes of Right and not Bill of Rights as there are Ten Amendment. Each a law, held apart by Constitutional separation. Separation that can be tested before the United States Constitutional judicial process. Not justice system.

The precedent of Statute of Right is conditional upon a United State Constitution.
This is a nonbiased expression of the basic principle of our State of the Union.
Posted by birdtrainer88 2 years ago
Yes, of course. Rights are a concept, and it's not like you can say "rights don't exist because they are not tangible" or something like that. Natural Law is like religion. Of course it exists; its applicability, however, is debatable (I am personally all for it).
Posted by birdtrainer88 2 years ago
Yes, of course. Rights are a concept, and it's not like you can say "rights don't exist because they are not tangible" or something like that. Natural Law is like religion. Of course it exists; its applicability however is debatable (I am personally all for it).
Posted by canis 2 years ago
Yes. Rights do exist..If you have "the power" to say..."They do"..
Posted by Bamboo_Shoot 2 years ago
By the existence of rights do you mean rights like the rights labeled in the Bill of Rights or other things such as human rights?
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