[ExI] Rights without selves (was: Nolopsism)

JOSHUA JOB nanite1018 at gmail.com
Mon Feb 8 22:39:10 UTC 2010

On Feb 8, 2010, at 2:18 PM, Spencer Campbell wrote:
> There are people who believe that every single thing in the universe
> is technically alive. Since cars actually have the ability to burn
> fuel and propel themselves, traits generally associated with animals,
> they actually have a better claim to the title than most inanimate
> objects. You could argue that a car isn't alive because it can't move
> intentionally, and the obvious counterargument would be to point
> demonstratively at a plant; but many plants lean towards the sun. I
> would prefer coral polyps as an example, or, even better,
> phytoplankton.
Anyone who thinks everything is alive is, as Damien said, an idiot, or I will add, severely epistemologically confused. Life also maintains homeostasis, grows, etc., things which a car does not do. Also, while rights, in my view, only apply to life, that is not a sufficient condition. The sufficient condition is that they are self-aware and rational, something cars, plants, etc. are not.
> On the subject of awareness, use of "de se" designators, et cetera,
> Stefano Vaj points out that unconscious human beings retain the rights
> of their conscious selves. I would equate this with a house retaining
> the right not to be demolished even when its residents are away.
Perhaps, though I generally view that as simply the fact that from experience we know the person still exists, and must merely be "woken up" in order to resume reasoning, etc. And damaging that physical object that that entity "resides" in will cause damage to the entity's capacity to continue to exist, and thus, is a violation of its rights (more on that in a moment).
> I'm broadening the definition with the intention to make law in
> general more sensible: rights prevent wrongs. It is wrong to dump
> garbage in the ocean. Therefore, the ocean should have rights.
For similar reasons, I argue that things which are not rational cannot have anything have personal meaning to them. The ocean does not employ de se operators, it is not self-aware, and in fact isn't even alive, so nothing can "wrong" it. I'll agree, basically, that rights prevent things from wronging other things, in a very specific sense, but since the ocean does not have any way it can be "wronged", it cannot possibly have rights.
> The difference between "selves" and "de se systems", if that term is
> accurate, is largely a matter of abstraction. A self is highly
> complex, and theoretically atomic: it persists from one moment to
> another, and one can correctly attribute memory, thought,
> self-awareness, and so on to it. Memory is inextricable from self. All
> of the parts add up to an indivisible whole.
> Conversely, a "de se" designator is just a symbol. It points to a
> greater system, which we normally call a self, but that system is
> composed of a great many independent parts that interact in
> complicated ways. Memories are only a part of that system, and purely
> optional. The symbol doesn't care: it just refers to whatever's
> present at the time.
I did not find their argument convincing, because the de se operator refers to the system of which it is a part, i.e. the computational structure (the program, essentially) of their hypothetical robot, or of we human being's brains/minds. That isn't exactly physical, as it is merely a pattern. It's an abstraction of sorts, and "I" is strange in that it cannot be particularly descriptive (it leads to infinite regress, since "I" includes the meaning of "I", which.... and so on). But I have thought, for a long time now, that that is exactly what the "self" is. I understand that this is similar, at least in part, to the thesis of Hofstadter's book "I am a Strange Loop", and while I own it, I have not read it yet. I just thought I should address that point, before diving into rights.
> You argue against cars having rights, and claim, indirectly, that
> doing so would cause a great many terrible unintended consequences.
> Request that you expound on a few of those consequences. You can
> choose something other than a car, if easier.
Well, first, I say that only entities with de se operators can have things of true "value", i.e. mental representations of things of personal importance, arranged in a hierarchy which is understood conceptually. Such an entity must work in order to continue to exist (at least any entity I have ever been able to conceive). By its nature, it has to choose whether to "live" or "die" (i.e. continue to exist or cease to exist), and does so continuously in all its actions (by pursuing things that help its life or harm it). Now, by its nature as such an entity, it's standard of morality is its own life (i.e. it should do things which help it live, and not do things which harm it), since if it isn't working for its life, it will die, and cease to be able to do anything at all.

Now, critically important is that entities such as this (that is, entities that are "self-aware", rational, and operate using concepts) have to decide what is in their own interest, because obviously it's value structure is particular to it and determined by it (that is, it employs de se operators, to use language from the paper). So it is impossible, by definition, for another entity to interfere with another (i.e. forcibly prevent it from taking an action, by threatening its existence), without getting in that entity's way in trying to survive. So you cannot initiate force without interfering with a fundamental requirement for the survival of all entities like you, and thereby reject a principle upon which your own survival is based.

That is my basic view of rights. I don't see how an ocean or a car can have rights, because rights need wrongs, and wrongs need values, and values need rational conceptual entities that employ de se operators (and it needs those entities to exist in some manner).

What sort of horrible consequences would come if you gave a car rights (like the right to exist, for example)? Well, besides dumping that whole structure of rights, one, in my mind, based on logic, you lose the power of its base of logic, and rejecting logic leaves open any number of possible groundings for "rights", like faith or racism or random whim, etc. And that is bad.

But lets be concrete about it. If a car has a right to exist, then that means I can't scrap it if I don't want it (and own it). But if that is the case, that means I am forced to give it to someone else, even if I don't want to (breaching my right to control my life, because I purchased the car with my money, which I used some of my life to acquire). Moreover, let us say that a deer with big antlers jumps in front of my vehicle and I can hit the deer (and quite possibly be killed or at least gored by its antlers, its happened a good bit around where I live to other people), or I can veer off the side of the road, and hit a lamp-post which I know I will likely survive (as I have a wonderfully safe car), but my car will be completely totalled. What should I do? My car has a right to exist, but if I veer off to the side, it will be destroyed, and I will have destroyed it. I have a right to live if I can, but if I want to live, I must destroy my car.

So, do you suggest, as you do in an earlier post, that a car has a right to exist? If it does, than I would have to go gently into that good night in my hypothetical situation above (or, more likely, scream and then gurgle as I choke on my own blood). Or, if I have a right to live, and do not have to do this, then the car cannot have a right to exist. Rights are universals, they cannot be contextual, or else they aren't "rights." Everyone can have the right not to initiate force against others, as it leads to no contradictions. My car cannot have a right to exist, because it leads to a contradiction with a logically derived principle that I have a right to my life. Similarly with the ocean, trees, dirt, space shuttles, and asteroids. No inanimate object can possibly have rights, and most living organisms cannot have them either (like bacteria, sea sponges, fish, insects, etc., as they are not even conceivably entities with a conceptual faculty and de se operators).

Btw, if my argument sounds similar-ish to the Objectivist argument, it is because I am heavily influenced by Objectivism (and may, though I am not certain, end up subscribing to that view fully).

Joshua Job
nanite1018 at gmail.com

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