X-Message-Number: 16040
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2001 20:25:12 -0800
From: Lee Corbin <>
Subject: Re: Trust In All-Powerful Lords

In Message #16029 Peter McCluskey wrote

>I believe that statements like "I have a right to life,
>liberty, and property" express an important truth that
>would not become false if they ceased to be legal rights.

What important truth?  And would that truth be obvious
to a casual listener hearing you speak of a "right"?
It certainly sounds good.  Even small children listening
will admit to that.  But it still smells like rhetoric
to me, the kind of rhetoric that responsible parties
in a conversation should avoid.

Now as I said at the outset, what we are debating here
is a terminological issue; you and I have no substantive
disagreement otherwise.  Possibly it will boil down to
aesthetics:  I find the low semantic content of "I have
a right..." to outweigh whatever important truth that
you would be inconvenienced to articulate in a different

For fun, let's consider your other example:

>A less clear example where your position has implications that
>make me uncomfortable would be the right of a slave travelling
>through Massachusetts in 1859 to escape from his owner.

So you and I are standing in a Maryland field in 1857,
where we and the runaway slave are surrounded by a group
of hostile farmers (though amazingly amenable to philosophic

Peter:  This slave has a right to life, liberty, and property!

Crowd:  No he does not!  He is a slave.

Peter:  I contend that even slaves have a right to the above.

Crowd:  You are wrong.  Slaves do not...

Lee:    Peter and I disapprove of slavery.  Now, how can you
        possibly disagree with us about that?

At this point, endless arguing is avoided, and they
proceed without further ado to lynch all three of us,
showing the efficacy of my approach.

Seriously, it boils down in your case to us eventually arguing
that economic systems that renounce slavery do better in the 
long run, and also that it so happens... (as you write)

>The greatest happiness for the greatest number

is not achieved in the 19th century by slave-owning societies.

>I believe the demagoguery that bothers you is a substantive
>fraud (usually a false claim that a firm Schelling point has
>been established) that cannot be cured by simple semantic changes.

Perhaps not cured, but if I had been those Maryland
farmers, I would have asked you, "What right?  Where is
it?  Show it to me?  What are you really trying to say?"

Instead of the airy talk of a "right", you would be compelled
to immediately allude to what is really going on in the universe,
and one small step in advancing rational discourse would have
been taken.


Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=16040