What is Morality and what are Rights?
Posted by evanescent on 8 December, 2007
Humans are not like animals. It is not our level of intelligence that differentiates us from animals; it is the nature of our intelligence. Humans think and reason on a conceptual level, whereas animals no matter how higher their brain functions, operate at the perceptual level. Without the ability to abstract and form concepts, rational thought is not possible.
Animals act on instinct, and have the necessary behaviour that allows them to survive. An animal will hunt, and prey, flee, or build a nest, based on instinctive behaviour. Humans are not like this; we must discover how to survive. We must think, create, produce. To live as a man means to live as a rational being. Man cannot live as a man without thinking. A man who rejects reason surrenders himself to life as an animal, with only luck ensuring his survival.
How does man think his way to survival? He must discover what is good for his life or not. He must discover what is of value to him or not. Implicit in this discovery is the reality that some things are good and some things are bad TO HIM. This is where the fact of morality appears. Good or bad, based on what? What is the objective standard for a man to determine what is good or bad; what is moral or immoral? His own life. A rational man necessarily holds his life as his highest value, and judges all other values against that objective standard. Some of these values are necessary and some are optional. What are the necessary values? Ayn Rand identifies them as Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem.
“Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.” –
For the New Intellectual
A man must decide what is good or bad for his own life; whether he is alone or in a crowd; whether in the centre of a bustling metropolis or abandoned on a desert island.
From For The New Intellectual again:
“You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, when there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today—and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.”
A common mistake made by some is that there is a difference between ‘good’ and ‘moral good’. This is patently false: nothing has intrinsic value. What is good, if it is not good FOR someone? What is bad, if it is not bad FOR someone? Value cannot be divorced from the valuer; value without consciousness is meaningless.
Since man must freely and rationally choose his own actions, morality is a personal system for every man, for all men. On a desert island or in a city, man needs to think: he needs to discover food, shelter, clothing. He needs purpose. He needs fulfilment. He needs those things that enrich his life and allow him to flourish. He needs to decide what is of value to his life, in other words, what is GOOD. So to talk of a kind of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ outside the context of morality is to steal the concept of good and bad from their source: a code of values to guide decisions, videlicet morality.
From this, we see that morality is not a social construct or mystical phenomenon that emerges magically whenever two or more people congregate. That way lies the path of moral relativism; can two people decide that poison is good? Can two people decide that man should not reason? Can two people decide that rape and murder are good? No.
Therefore, in order for man to act like a man; a reasoning volitional being, he needs a morality. Man, to be a man, must be a moral being. A man who is not allowed to act like a moral being is no man at all, but rather, an animal. In a social setting (two men or more) men must agree to allow each other to act like moral beings, otherwise coexistence and life would be impossible. How is the morality of man guaranteed? Rights. Whereas morality is an individual concept and guide to personal actions, rights only exist in a social context. A man on a desert island has no need for rights, but he still needs a morality.
It is man’s identity as a moral being that makes rights necessary. What are these rights? Specifically, a man’s right to his own life. The corollary of that is the right to sustain his life by any and all means necessary. This entails the right to property, and to pursue those values that give his life meaning and happiness. A rational being recognises the necessity of rights in a social context and respects the rights of others. (Incidentally, this is why animals have no rights). To do otherwise would be to invite the violation of one’s own rights, but since a rational being knows that his own rights are non-negotiable, he does not violate other’s. A man is free to violate the rights of others, of course, but in doing so he is not free from the consequences of doing so, and in doing so is not being rational.
The right to one’s one life does not grant any man the “right” to subsist off the life of another. Your right to exist and your right to sustain your own existence does not mean I have any duty to sustain your life. A man has a right to find food; he has NO right to demand food from others. A man has the right to create or find shelter, property, and love, but there is absolutely no obligation on any other rational being to provide these things for him. Note: I said obligation, which implies a compulsion, which means action coerced by force. Force is the only way to infringe individual rights; it is the only way to stop man acting freely, in other words, like a moral being. (Morality therefore becomes impossible when force is present.)
From this, we see that any collectivist/altruist theory of politics or ethics are deeply immoral because the only way these systems can function is to violate individual rights by violating man’s freedom over his own actions and his own property. What systems would this include? Communism, socialism, totalitarianism, democracy, any religion, and utilitarianism.