I agree with [one HBLer’s] basic thesis: rights are contextual, and the context must be judged by reference to both the facts of the case and the purpose of the principle. An example is: rights do not apply on overloaded lifeboat.
Another way of putting this is that all moral principles, including rights, are objective not intrinsic.
The objective nature of principles, including rights, is the answer to the libertarian anarchists. They maintain that one’s private knowledge of, or beliefs about, the rightness of one’s use of force cannot be held to account. For Joe to use force, and to claim you can’t interfere, he doesn’t have to be objective, it’s enough that he knows (or feels) that he is right. The rest of us have to bow before his unproved, unevidenced, unvetted conclusions about, in the end, who should be killed and who should not be.
But I don’t really agree that moral principles are mainly induced:
In other words, they [rights as moral principles] are inductively formed and validated with the same method, and based upon the same kind of “inductive material”–that is, observations of cause and effect.
I think there are inductive inputs, but it’s not the case (despite some people’s suggestion) that one concludes that, say, dishonesty is wrong by following the life course of dishonest people. People past about 5 years old know that deceiving others is wrong. In the biographical interviews, Ayn Rand tells the story of a boy who promised her “very solemnly” that if she’d give him her turn on a swing, he would surrender the swing back to her after his turn. But then he wouldn’t give it back to her and laughed at her.
. . . that was my first encounter with dishonesty. All I remember is: First enormous astonishment and then such a murderous rage that if they hadn’t started swinging, I probably would have scratched or choked that kid.
One knows, by introspection, the meaning of gaining a value by deceit. One also knows the meaning of compromise vs. integrity and, from experience, of productive achievement. Now, the introspection is based on experience, but there’s a lot of deduction involved. E.g., to get a value from someone by deceit is to victimize the person; to victimize people is wrong. Therefore . . .
[Another HBLer] is right to point out that we neither derive nor apply rights by looking just to practical consequences. In fact, without principles, how would we know the consequences? Principles are the means of grasping the consequences.
A particularly brilliant example of the role of principles, whether intended or not, is Keating’s statement:
always be what people want you to be. Then you’ve got them where you want them.
If you think about the meaning of that advice, it’s exactly backwards: if you always try to be what people want you to be, then they’ve got you where they want you.
Clearly, Ayn Rand intended the reader to get that reversal—and for Keating not to get it. But my point is that you don’t induce “being what people want is letting them run you” from an examination of cases; you get it from a thinking-in-principles analysis of what he’s proposing.
You do use examples—imaginary ones, normally: “What would it mean for my life if I tried to impress people by being what they wanted me to be, rather than what I decided it was right to be? What if, for instance, I tried to manipulate my mother by being the obedient, God-fearing son she wants me to be?”
You know the answer, as soon as you pose it. What is that form of reasoning? It’s thinking in principles by thinking in examples. It involves keeping to essentials and naming fundamentals. One doesn’t think, for instance, “Well, if I were to try to look like the boy Mother wants, I’d be meeting a lot of people my age in Church.” Or, “I’d spend more time reading the bible.”
Suppose one thought, “Mother would beam at me and praise me to everyone.” A boy with any self-esteem would be sickened by thought.