What Are Rights?

Individuals have rights. But are they natural? And how do they compare and contrast with legal or constitutional rights? Are legal or constitutional rights similar to those inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence? Professor Aeon Skoble distinguishes such constitutional rights, such as the right to vote, from the rights protected by governments and constitutions—natural rights not actually granted by governments themselves. He concludes that legal systems should create rights that are compatible with natural rights.

Video by: learnliberty.org/


  1. Robert Nunyer says:

    What Are Rights?

    When we look up the word right, as a noun, in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language we find, at definitions: 5. Just claim…; 6. Just claim…; 7. Just claim…; 8. That which justly belongs to one; 9. Property; interest; 10. Just claim…; and 11. Authority…

    A right, is a “just claim” to property. Property, it must be remembered, is a word used to “denote everything which is the subject of ownership, corporeal or incorporeal, tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, real or personal[1]”.

    What are our “natural rights”? The New Hampshire constitution did a fair job of delineating them.

    [Art.] 2. [Natural Rights.] All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights – among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining* happiness.

    *As Benjamin Franklin so succinctly put it: “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

    And, as for Noah’s definition at #11, (the one that appears to be out of step with the rest); it only seems that way. Authority is a “just claim” to exercise powers. And, the most common way of gaining a “just claim” is explained well in the so-called Declaration of Independence; “deriving…just powers from the consent”, i.e. “Permission”[2] of the author, or owner, of said powers.

    [1] Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1990), page1216
    [2] Ibid. page 133

  2. Robert Nunyer says:

    “He concludes that legal systems should create rights that are compatible with natural rights.”

    Legal systems should SECURE its voluntary members’ natural rights, not “create” them.

    “That to SECURE these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

    Secure (intransitive verb) means: “to make secure, or safe; guard; protect[1]“; “To guard from danger or risk of loss[2]”
    [1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Ed.
    [2] American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

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