George Carlin - You have no rights -- reactions?


  • I'm curious to know what others think about Carlin's frankness, particularly in light of the above discussion among us. It seems like the Founding Fathers believed we had natural rights, and it seems like this stems from their agreeing with Locke (who believed that humans are naturally sociable) and disagreement with Hobbes (who believed that humans are solitary and brutish in their natural state).


    http://societyofepicurus.com/t…ith-epicurean-philosophy/


    It seems like the argument is that if humans have an inherent, natural morality, then there was something like natural rights that preceded the state. Lucretius seems to confirm that this is in fact what ancient Epicureans believed. (Studies on dogs and monkeys that show that they have a sense of justice and reciprocity seem to confirm this intuition). Typically, these natural rights are expressed as "right to freedom" or non-coercion so long as one respect the similar freedoms of others.


    https://theautarkist.wordpress…-reasoning-on-friendship/

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Excellent find Hiram. I completely agree with George Carlin, but he never gives a positive clear definition of what "rights" are supposed to mean.


    I think he is correct when he says that what we are really talking about are "privileges" but he should be even more clear and say that they are privileges that we have because we have formed governments to protect those privileges. Without a mechanism such as a government to protect / enforce them, they are exactly what Carlin says - a figment of our imagination.


    I think if he would follow his thoughts to their logical conclusion by being clear about the definition of "rights" he would conclude that "rights" in the sense of protected privileges do not exist in nature.


    What we are generally referring to when we talk about rights is more like "I think it is right that such a such a thing happen." In that sense the meaning is "I prefer such and such a result" which means "Such and such a result pleases me" and that is how you drill down to the source of this concept in human nature.

    Locke and Mills can talk back and forth all day about "what they think is right based on human nature" but when it comes down to "rights" which are protected by some mechanism, such a things has never existed and never will exist outside of living people setting up mechanisms to enforce their preferences.

    And that applies to Japanese internment camps no more or less than to camps like Auschwitz. There are no "rights' floating in the air, and if the people involved and living at the time don't like something, it is up to them to enforce their opinion by taking direct action - and not just referring to "natural rights" or "god-given rights" or idealism like that.

  • Did Lucretius address how rights or laws come about?

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • The only source I remember accentuates that it is natural to yield our personal sovereignty to the state for the sake of safety (“the life of violence and hatred left him sick, and more disposed freely to choose the yoke of law and statute”):


    Then kings were killed; the ancient majesty
    and pride of sceptre and throne fell, overturned;
    the bright ensign of royalty lay bloodied
    under the feet of the mob, mourning lost glory:
    men lustily trampled what they had vastly feared.
    Life sank to the depths, the dregs, back to confusion,
    with everyone wanting top rank and highest power.
    Then, here and there, men learned to choose officials,
    establish constitutions, and live by law.
    For man grew weary: the life of violence
    and hatred left him sick, and more disposed
    freely to choose the yoke of law and statute.

    For angered men kept calling for revenge
    more savage than just law will now permit;
    this made man sicken of life by violence. (DRN V.1136-1150)
    Better by far be subject, and at peace,
    than will to govern the world and hold a throne! (DRN V.1129-1130)



    https://theautarkist.wordpress…e-a-subject-and-at-peace/

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Yes I think that is the kind of place where he discussed how society addressed, by experience to address problems that arose.

  • That's kind of a funny passage, given the times!


    "Yes, but we're civilized now; we give men a trial before we throw them off the Tarpeian Rock."


    But to the point. It's important to realize that the Founding Fathers were a matched set only by time and circumstance. In fact they argued about almost everything, including 'rights' and their provenance. The diary of John Adams, in which he records his notes on the meetings of the Continental Congress, are illuminating;


    http://www.masshist.org/public…/index.php/view/DJA02d149


    The seminal passage from the above is this;


    Quote

    I have looked for our Rights in the Laws of Nature—but could not find them in a State of Nature, but always in a State of political Society.


    I have looked for them in the Constitution of the English Government, and there found them.

    -Joseph Galloway


    The same quote is memorably acted by Zeljko Ivanek in the John Adams HBO miniseries (albeit thrown into the mouth of John Dickinson).


  • Excellent find Joshua. I don't know nearly as much about this period as I should, but this argument by Adams definitely summarizes the issue. "Rights" exist only where enforced by some kind of organization. Where the organization chooses or simply does not enforce them, the "rights" do not exist, and as Adams says, the issues will either be taken into the hands of the living people involved, or not -- but calling on "rights" is useless.

  • We have natural desires, and we have a natural, innate sense of what feels just and what doesn't, based on the evolved tit for tat strategy. Organisms that can't tell if they are getting shortchanged on resources don't survive well! But a desire for justice is not a right until others contract with us to establish such. I think the whole concept of natural rights is a disaster.

  • I'm sorry to come late to this discussion, but I thought it was better to continune this thread than to open another one.


    I think the whole concept of natural rights is a disaster.


    Elayne I presume you refer to the thinking-of-them-as-real-stuff is what you deem a disaster. But the fact that they are recognized (life, liberty and estate) as rights (in Cassius's meaning of being things desirable because they produce more pleasure than pain) by the bigger chunk of humanity-as-an-authority the recognizes them and will try to enforce them regardless of politics is actually something good. So trying to promote them, and honoring them, regardless of them not being real, is something very desirable and far from disastrous. Why couldn't we just accept these as good (pleasure-producing), regardless of having and organized body enforcing them, and be willing to enforce them ourselves in our quality of members of an existent cumulus of beings who can understand this, and each other, called humanity.


    "Rights" exist only where enforced by some kind of organization. Where the organization chooses or simply does not enforce them, the "rights" do not exist, and as Adams says, the issues will either be taken into the hands of the living people involved, or not -- but calling on "rights" is useless.

    How is the Epicurean posture of not taking part in politics reconciled with the recognition of rights as being good and only posible within the context of a governmental authority that could help enforcing them? It is in my best interest to have some rights, so it is in my best interest to have a recognized body that can help me have them and maintain them, but if I only relate passively to such body, I'm foregoing control of my experience, and putting at risk future pleasure derived from said rights.


    I don't think voting is active enough, because the options could be: bad and worse; unless we have a more active stance in, at least, promoting into general culture the need of this regulatory body of civilians, with the same interests (and then again this is why is good that some rights are recognized as universal/natural/human in order to reduce the risk of loosing them if the body of regulatory civilians tends to opine different than me in all issues). I think this inevitably exposes you to the risks of political life, whether or not you decide to take public office, albeit at a lesser level; but this is a pain that generally we should be willing to endure for the greater pleasure of certainty of some rights, otherwise we would be hiding our head in the ground (like in the discussion of Voltaire's Turk  Cassius ); I'm not familiar with the PDs but if they didn't include something like this I would be surprised.

  • "the Epicurean posture of not taking part in politics"


    That is the position taken by commentators and antiEpicureans but I do not believe that is an accurate reflection of what Epicurus taught.


    Epicurus taught against making politics a career as far as I can see, but that did not stop Epicureans such as Cassius Longinus from helping to lead the Roman civil war, and I feel sure the reason is as you state. If you do not act to protect yourself then god certainly will not, and it is unlikely others will either.


    This is another issue where we have to dig back through the texts but I think it is clear that Epicurus distinguished between unhealthy political ambition and between whatever action is required to obtain and secure peace and safety.

  • Thank you for posting your reply, camotero . I struggle with this idea of "universal human rights" in the Epicurean context as well.

    My understanding is that a "universal" right veers close to - or is - a Platonic Ideal against which Epicurus fought. The Epicureans saw something like justice to be a contract among people to live without being harmed and to not harm others. Everything is contextual.

    BUT Epicurus also held that the notion of justice can change. Something people thought just at one time can become unjust later. Was it always unjust then? Possibly. Possibly it kept people safe before and now is no longer needed.

    I would say that there are some things that promote people living together but I don't want to go down a Utilitarian rabbit hole. However, the more people feel safe individually, the more everyone benefits as a group. The more equitably the laws are applied to individuals, the more society benefits in that people feel protected.

    However, in reality, "rights" are only as real as the society that upholds them and the government that enforces them. Political dissidents can't enforce their universal human rights individually. They can desire to have intellectual freedom, etc., but if their government throws them in prison, an abstract ideal is not going to be of much practical use. That's not to say that what is happening to them is just! Working for justice might be a better path than proclaiming universal rights. As I said, I struggle with this idea.

    What would you posit to be universal rights? I'm genuinely curious, although Cassius may feel this veers too close to politics. I'll let him make the call. As a start, do you see the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as outlining your thoughts?

  • No i don't feel this veers to close to politics, because it is impossible to discuss the last ten PDs without going into all this. We need to be careful and it is best to use historic references rather than current issues, and make them generic if possible, but it's an area that demands to be dealt with and fully appropriate here.


    It is an issue that most everyone is going to struggle with but I think it is probably one of the first that people will find their way to after battling through the implications of the totally natural and atomistic universe. In such a universe, where there are no gods and no ideal forms, it is literally impossible for there to be "universal rights" apart from what humans create for themselves. There are many aspects of this, and not the least is the multiple meaning of "right" as "something we approve of as correct" vs a "civil right" or a claim that we can make and expect other people to respect. We all want to believe that those exist in some way, but if we rigorously follow the implications of Epicurean physics I think we find that we have to create and uphold those for ourselves.


    I ran out of time earlier to link to David Sedley's article "The Ethics of Brutus and Cassius" which does not pay nearly enough attention to this issue as I would prefer, but which makes several comments that the Epicureans were much more willing to take action, as a matter of principle, than were the stoics, to preserve their "rights." There is a lot more to develop on that, but that is why I use the example of Cassius Longinus' discussions with Cicero. Cassius was emphatically and specifically calling upon his Epicurean principles as justification for his fight for justice as he saw it, while Cicero was largely on the sidelines in the battle, and - as Sedley points out - Brutus didn't even bother to ask the true Stoics to participate, since as Sedley says there is no tradition in Stoicism of that kind of action to protect rights. (I am paraphrasing too loosely in interests of time but it is a good article. It contains a short reference linking these ideas back to Epicurus himself:


    find it here: https://newepicurean.com/a-bri…he-expense-of-the-stoics/

  • Quote from cassius

    ...to discuss the last ten PDs

    camotero mentioned an unfamiliarity with the PDs so I wanted to add this here.I know I tend to take some jargon for granted sometimes.


    The "PD"s are the 40 Principal Doctrines (sometimes called the Sovran Maxims in older transitions; Kyriai Doxai in Greek) laid down by Epicurus himself or by the early Epicurean community as a summary of the doctrines or beliefs of the philosophy. Diogenes Laertius ends his book on Epicurus with these 40 doctrines. There are numerous translations online, but here is a quick list to choose from:

    Perseus Digital Library (Hicks translation)

    Peter St-Andre Public Domain translation

    Epicurus Wiki translation with original text

    and I'm sure Cassius has a favorite or two.

  • Thanks for the list of links Don. It's *always* good to compare various translations. I generally default to the Bailey translations first, since they are the most recent "published" public domain translations that I know of, but the more the better. I have most of the Bailey versions transcribed into the menu above under "Core Texts" https://www.epicureanfriends.com/wcf/index.php?texts/


    I default to Bailey for the reason stated, but he is by no means my favorite, and I am not sure there is any list anywhere that I fully endorse. Almost all of them seem to have issues and that's why I ended up setting up a subforum for each of the Doctrines and well as each of the Vatican Sayings so we could explore them in detail over time. DeWitt did not produce his own list, and I've for a long time meant to go through and pull out of his texts all of those that he translated (which are many) but I have not found the time to do that. In most cases he has creative ways of looking at them that I think are very helpful. I think a LOT more work needs to be done on almost every one, with a commentary on each one, which I don't think is currently available anywhere.

  • I've been thinking about how to respond to this thread since I first read it this morning. And then this evening I received news—and if you follow the news, you'll know what I'm talking about—that has thrown the whole question into especially sharp relief.


    People hold that there is a set of rights that are inherent in the state of nature, but nobody anywhere knows what those rights are exactly. I'm with Elayne—I don't believe they exist. But suppose they did; to whom would you award the job of deciding which rights are natural? Who would you give that task—the task of interpreter? The Natural Law argument had classical antecedents, but after the fall of classical civilization the earthly authority over that "Law" was subsumed entirely into the aegis of the christian church. Should they be the ones who decide which rights are natural and inalienable?


    The men and women of the European Enlightenment needed there to be inalienable rights; they did not have the luxury of choosing between the best of all possible political theories. They were not theoreticians—they were rebels, and the prototype of all rebellion in the western mind is the figure of Prometheus. Repurposing natural law out from under the yoke of the church was a necessary simulacrum of Promethean daring—stealing fire from the gods as a gift for all mankind. This was a great boon, so far as it went. And yet, think what they wrought!


    By resting their best philosophical case on natural rights, the American Founders (to take the earlier example) left open the door to every manner of specious argument. The condition of the African slave? Natural. They'd be worse off without us. The disenfranchisement of women? Natural. They are the weaker sex. The racial partition of society? Natural. What right do we have to intermix what God at Babel hath set apart? The prohibition of homosexual sex and marriage? Natural. Two men, after all, cannot procreate.


    Man is indeed an animal, but he is a human animal. Let us have a human, and not a natural or divine, conception of justice. Any attempt to found our rights on the laws of nature is an attempt that gives a hostage to fortune, to those whose modus operandi is to argue in bad faith.


    Justice and rights that are understood to exist by convention, and not by nature, are not always successful, but this at least is true: they always avoid the original, seminal hypocrisy of 'natural law'. There will always be men and women who wish to deny you your rights, or your justice; don't allow them to hide behind the skirts of Nature or Nature's God. Make them look you in the face and tell you, one fallible mammal to another, that it is really temporal power, and NOT intemporal nature that emboldens them.

  • Well stated Joshua! Of what you wrote I would particularly echo this;


    The men and women of the European Enlightenment needed there to be inalienable rights; they did not have the luxury of choosing between the best of all possible political theories.

    I think what you just referenced has to be kept in mind in a lot of what we read in commentators on Epicurus too. For most of the last 2000 years, even today in many instances, the circumstances in which people live dramatically colors what they find to be important and what they are willing and able and "need" to say.


    Referencing the American founders again, there was a lot of talk in that period about freedom OF religion, but not quite so much about freedom FROM religion. So when we cite them (even some of Jefferson's statements) we find them talking more about neutrality between opposing religious sects more frequently than they talk about liberating people from ALL of the oppression of all the religious groups, no matter whether those groups are familiar and local or unfamiliar and exotic. And so now we have enshrined in the Constitution (Bill of Rights) a provision that gives shelter to all kinds of practices and viewpoints that would otherwise be outlawed but for the protection of religion.


    But the point is that everyone lives in a certain context, just like we do today, and people are going to use whatever tools are at hand to achieve their goals. During the "enlightenment" it appears that natural law theory gave them an opening against religion that was harder for the church to refute (given that god supposedly acts through nature), so they used that opening for its immediate effect rather than worrying about what it might mutate into later.


    I think many people use Epicurus in the same way -- they see an argument for "absence of pain" or "tranquility" and they employ Epicurus' name, regardless of whether they really agree with Epicurus' underlying assumptions and direction.


    And that's why many people who talk about Epicurus stop short and don't ever want to talk about the last ten PD's, or many of the other and deeper implications of Epicurean philosophy. They are employing Epicurus for a totally different purpose and direction than he intended, and they end up with a monster (like "natural law") that in its own turn will have to be dismantled when it turns on them in a way that they did not necessarily intend or anticipate.


    "Painlessness" as the ultimate goal, with its implication of desirability of lack of sensation, when sensation is the foundation of life, is as much of a monster as is the concept of a "natural law" when "law" of the type we are discussing is an entirely human creation, which "nature" of itself has no necessary connection, any more than do supernatural gods.

  • I'm sorry to come late to this discussion, but I thought it was better to continue this thread than to open another one.

    Camotero I meant to comment on this earlier. I think I have turned off the forum software's warning against posting in old threads. You didn't see that warning did you? Because if you did, or people see it elsewhere, I need to work harder to turn it off.


    There are some hazards even for us in reusing in old threads, because I realize that what was said back when the thread started has now slipped my mind, and I needed to refresh myself on why the subject came up. But in general I don't see this as a software support or other type of forum where information becomes obsolete. in general much of what we are discussing is as close to timeless as you can get, so there's no harm and much good in reusing old threads, even those which are much older than this one, so people should feel free to comment on any thread, no matter how old.

  • Quote

    From @Cassius


    Epicurus taught against making politics a career as far as I can see, but that did not stop Epicureans such as Cassius Longinus from helping to lead the Roman civil war, and I feel sure the reason is as you state. If you do not act to protect yourself then god certainly will not, and it is unlikely others will either.


    This is another issue where we have to dig back through the texts but I think it is clear that Epicurus distinguished between unhealthy political ambition and between whatever action is required to obtain and secure peace and safety.


    I'm having trouble reconciling taking part in a civil war with epicurean philosophy. I presume there’s nothing pleasurable in taking part in war, and it could only be if there was some level of sociopathy/psychopathy, but perhaps I’m not seeing something. And even if you decide to endure it for a later pleasure, said latter pleasure has to be so idealized as to make it unreal. When one goes to war, they do so expecting to die, very likely in a very unpleasant way, and the only consolation one can find to do this falls more into the realm of stoic idealism than of epicurean pragmatism.


    I wonder if this confusion may be recurrent, because, as I have come to understand epicurean philosophy, for the calculus of pleasure to be effective and pragmatic, one has to be able to “add 2 + 2”, with which I try to say, there has to be pragmatic, and easily identifiable pleasure at the end of the pain you’re calculating you’ll endure. Deciding to go into war, seems more complicated than that, with much uncertainty at the outcome, thus making it a highly idealized outcome.


    I’d understand if he was already involved in this, by erroneous choices of the past, without knowing better, fooled by the stoic idealism of the time, and this was his last resort to try to change his ways within the options he had. But for me it would have been better to do something else, or go somewhere else, like Epicurus himself did when he was being harassed/pursued at lampsacus (or one of the first places where he started teaching).


    I think the line crossing towards fooling one self that the pain one’s enduring will produce pleasure later on is a thin one, and specially since we’ve been indoctrinated and bombarded left and right with idealistic thinking. I understand this has to be more practical. Pleasure should be more immediate and not “after a war”. If it takes a war to get to the pleasure, I don’t think it’s very real.


    Likewise, Cassius , I gather from your display name that Cassius Longinus may be an important character to you, so I want to clarify that this reply is not directed at you personally, but rather intended to explain my point of view, with an open stance for correction and clarification.

  • Don thanks.


    I would only think that freedom and life could be universal rights, if there was any. Property I’m a bit more doubtful about. But I agree with you that these could be achieved from seeking justice, in the Epicurean way. And what I argue is, if they are so evidently effective towards producing more pleasure than pain, why do we have to have an organized body of government to recognize them and enforce them, if we could do it as well. If we understood that the pain that would cost us to defend our fellows' rights to life and freedom is something that could be pragmatically pleasure producing for all in the not so long run, we could easily accept them in the same category of justice, just enforced by everyone, instead of having a judge to determine it. But by saying just that they don’t exist, we’re taking the easy pleasure of not complicating ourselves now, but leaving our future pleasures unsecured. And by the way, what like you said, what is justice if not recognized by the people: nothing. There’s nothing in the universe that protects us from being harmed and harming the others. And I think these other cosntructs fall in the same category. Or if you could help differentiate why they’re not I’ll be glad to listen.

  • Quote

    from Cassius


    In such a universe, where there are no gods and no ideal forms, it is literally impossible for there to be "universal rights" apart from what humans create for themselves.

    Perhaps the naming is wrong. Perhaps that’s why Human Rights is better. I think we all agree that they have to be recognized and upheld and honored by us as a community or else they don’t exist. They don’t even exist after we’ve upheld them. The pleasure resulting of using them as factors in our calculus of pleasure is what’s very real. And I do think it does more harm to say they don’t exist, when clearly they are concepts we understand and can include them in our calculus of pleasure. It’s obvious they don’t exist, but negating their value and capacity as factors for producing pleasure seems to me absurdly purist, not pragmatic at all, and potentially very harmful by leaving all of us potentially subject to experiencing a life without these rights. So I would say, there should be a doctrine or dogmatic saying that states that recognizing a person's right to live regardless of what they’ve done, and to live free within the constraints defined by their interactions with others, because it is obvious that this could bring us all more pleasure than pain.