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Thursday, November 12, 2009

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First off, let me say that Peter's response is a model of what a good comment looks like. He has both clarified my argument and found a flaw in it. He considers my argument unsound as it stands due to the incorrectness of premise 3: If every human person has a right to defend his life, then he has a right to an effective means of defending his life. Peter shows that this presupposes that (B) the Principle of the Transfer of Rights is always true. Now Peter holds, reasonably, that (B), like its negation (A), is not reasonable. I agree. Since (3) presupposes and thus implies (B), and since (B) is unreasonable, it follows that it is unreasonable to hold (3) as stated.

Peter doesn't say why he thinks (3) unreasonable, but presumably he has in mind cases like the following. Islamo-terrorist Nidal Malik Hasan has a right to life, and with it a right to defend his life, but presumably he doesn't have a right to the means of defending his life -- and this for the reason that he has without justification shot 43 people and killed 13 of them.

But it seems to me that my argument is easily repaired. We need to qualify (3). I said as much in my original post, though I did not actually qualify it. Suppose we emend (3) so as to read:
3* If every human person has a right to defend his life, then, CETERIS PARIBUS, he has a right to an effective means of defending his life.

The qualification allows for exceptions such as the case of felons. The felon's felonious actions trump his right to the means of self-defense, or at least his tight to some means of self-defense. Of course, the rest of the argument's statements need similar qualification, but that is not a problem.


Response to Bill

In the present Guess Post which Bill graciously posted, I objected to premise 3 of his argument in “Deriving Gun Rights from the Right to Life”. In his response, Bill modified the said premise as follows:

3*. If every human person has a right to defend his life, then, CETERIS PARIBUS, he has a right to an effective means of defending his life.

The ceteris paribus clause is intended to qualify the scope of the consequent so as to exclude cases such as felons. This will not do, in my opinion. However, in order to bring to light the reason I believe Bill’s premise 3* does not meet the intent of my original objection, I shall restate it here and analyze the structure of the argument. I hope that by so doing the gap in Bill’s argument will became more apparent and so will be the reason why substituting premise 3* for premise 3 will not suffice. In stating Bill’s argument I will insert in parenthesis the word ‘natural’ in the places where Bill omitted it. This device will make the argument more explicit and highlight the exact place the argument is either invalid or unsound.

The Argument.

B1. Every human person possesses a natural right to life. (Premise taken for granted)
B2. If every human person has a natural right to life, then he has a [natural] right to defend his life against those who would seek to violate this right.
B3. If every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life, then he has a [natural] right to an effective means of defending his life.
Therefore,
B4. Every human person has a [natural] right to an effective means of defending his life. (From 1, 2, 3 by Modus Ponens and Hypothetical Syllogism.)
B5. In many circumstances, a gun is the only effective means of defending one's life. (Premise)
Therefore,
B6. In many circumstances, human persons have a [natural] right to possess guns. (From B4 and B5).

The Objection.

What is the logical principle which justifies obtaining (B6) from (B4) and (B5)? I think Bill has in mind here the logical principle of existential instantiation. If there are circumstances in which a gun is *the only* effective means of defending one’s life (B5), then a gun is an instance of an effective means of defending one’s life (B4), and therefore we are entitled by existential instantiation to conclude (B6). Hence, (B6).

But (B5) is false. Take any circumstance whatsoever in which a gun is an effective means to defend one’s life. Then surely a machine gun, a bazooka, or a tank would be equally or more effective. So if there are any circumstances whatsoever in which a gun is going to be an effective means of defending one’s life, then in all of these circumstances and others beside them these other weapons (and many more) will be equally or more effective. Therefore, a gun is not *the only* effective means to defend one's life. So (B5) needs to be revised as follows:

B5*. In many circumstances, a gun is an effective means of defending one's life. (Premise)

But now substitute for ‘a gun’ in (B5*) a machine gun, a bazooka, a tank or whatever and you get suitable instances similar to (B6) where persons have a [natural] right to possess any one of these weapons (and many more ominous devices such as biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons, etc.,).

The Diagnosis.

Something went wrong with this argument, since we surely do not think that persons have a [natural] right to possess any weapon whatsoever in order to defend their life. I maintain that the problem is with Bill’s original premise (B3). In order to pinpoint precisely the source of the problem, I shall offer here two interpretations of premise (B3):

3.1. If every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life, then he has a [natural] right to *some effective means* that defend his life.

3.2. If every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life, then *there are some effective means* such that he has a [natural] right to those particular means in order to defend his life.

Notice that in (3.1) the scope of the natural right is wider than that of the existential quantifier (i.e., some effective means). Let us call this form ‘de-dicto natural rights’. Thus, (3.1) is saying that if a person has a natural right to defend his life, then the person has a natural right to a state of affairs which can be stated by the proposition “There are some effective means that defend the person’s life”.

By contrast, in (3.2) the scope of the natural rights is narrow compared to the existential quantifier (i.e., there are some effective means). Let us call this form ‘de-re natural rights’. Thus, (3.2) is saying that if every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life, then there exist a particular effective means such that the person has a [natural] right to these means in order to defend his life.

I am convinced that Bill’s argument assumes a de-re reading of his original premise (B3). However, when he defends premise (B3), he shifts to a de-dicto reading. In defending premise (B3), Bill says the following:

“The negation of (3) also strikes me as absurd: You have a right to defend yourself, but no right to the possession of any effective means of so doing?”
{Note: (3) is identical to (B3) with the exception of adding parenthetically the word ‘natural’ in order to emphasize that these are natural rights.}

But, notice that the absurdity to which Bill alludes only follows if we negate (3.1); i.e., the de-dicto reading. The negation of (3.2), the de-re reading, is not at all absurd. For consider the negation of (3.2) and compare it to the negation of (3.2):

(~3.1) Every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life & it is not the case that he has a [natural] right to a state of affairs which can be stated by the proposition “There are some effective means that defend the person’s life”.

(~3.2) Every human person has a [natural] right to defend his life & it is not the case that there exist a particular means that are effective such that the person has a [natural] right to these means in order to defend his life.

Notice that (~3.1) is certainly absurd, for if a person fails to have a natural right to some effective arrangement or state of affairs that defends his life, then the natural right to defend his life becomes totally meaningless. However, (~3.2) is certainly not absurd. For surely we do not think that the natural right of a person to defend their life entails that there exists particular means that are effective (e.g., a gun, a machine gun, a bazooka, a tank, etc.,) and he has a right to them in order to defend his life. Thus, denying (3.2) is not the same as denying (3.1) because while one might deny that the natural right to defend one’s life entails specific means to which one has a natural right, one nevertheless can legitimately and consistently insist that the natural right to defend one’s life entails the right that some state of affairs obtain that is effective in defending his life.
So now we can discern exactly my problem with Bill’s argument. In his argument, Bill interprets premise (B3) in the de-re sense; i.e., in the sense of (3.2). Hence, (B4) must also be interpreted in the de-re sense. That is the only way he can use existential instantiation validly in order to obtain (B6) from (B4) and (B5). A de-dicto reading of premise (B3), and hence of (B4), would not permit a valid inference from (B4) in conjunction with (B5) to the conclusion (B6). However, so interpreted, Bill’s argument depends upon justifying a de-re reading of premise (B3). However, Bill’s defense of premise (B3) uses a de-dicto reading of premise (B3) in order to demonstrate the absurdity of denying it. But the only interpretation according to which denying premise (B3) is absurd is the de-dicto reading and this reading is not the one that is employed in the actual argument. Hence, either Bill’s argument is invalid or he has no justification from premise (B3).
It should be clear from the above considerations that the ceteris paribus clause of the amended premise 3 will not do. For the ceteris paribus clause merely excludes cases such as felons etc. This exclusion, even if successful in ruling out unwanted cases, does not resolve the underlying problem infecting the original argument. While there is much more that can be said in exploring the issues involved, I shall stop here and let Bill respond to my objection as it has been so far developed.

peter


Response to Bill II

In my previous response to Bill I made a distinction between a de-dicto reading of premise (B3), Bill’s original premise 3, vs. a de-re reading {Premise B3: If every human person has a right to defend his life, then he has a [natural] right to an effective means of defending his life.} In the present response I wish to link this distinction and its consequences for Bill’s argument to the principles which I have stated in the present guest post: namely, the principle that Rights-Trump-Law and the Principle-of-Transference-of-Rights (PTR). We will throughout assume Bill’s premise 1 that there are natural rights.

What are we saying when we say that there are *natural* rights, such as the right to life? I think that there are two intuitions that go together with the notion that persons have natural rights. The first intuition is that the origin, basis, or grounds of these rights is not a matter of convention or positive law: it is a matter of being a certain sort of entity, namely, a human person (or perhaps just *person*, if species other than human persons can be persons). And since the grounds of such rights is not positive law, natural rights are *logically prior* to positive law.

The second intuition is that natural rights create a *protective moral shield* over that to which the right applies: let us call these the ‘primary objects of the natural right’ (such as the life of a person). Anything that is within the protective moral shield afforded by a natural right is immune from infringement by other persons or by positive law unless the protective moral shield is surrendered by the individual himself (and/or his actions) or superseded by higher moral principles. It is in this sense that we are speaking here of *negative rights* afforded by natural rights. While there are very interesting questions about both of these possible exceptions (e.g., is suicide a form of freely surrendering the protective moral shield by an individual regarding the primary object that is their life and, therefore, morally justifiable?), I shall not discuss them here. Suffice it to say that the protective moral shield afforded by natural rights creates a moral wall around its primary objects the violation of which requires a very stringent moral justification. Due to the logical primacy of natural rights over positive law and the protective moral shield they create over their primary objects, natural rights trump positive law regarding these primary objects. Hence, we obtain the principle that Rights-Trump-Law, certainly regarding the primary objects of natural rights.

The following question arises: are there considerations that justify *extending* the protective moral shield afforded by natural rights to other objects, conditions, or items beyond the primary object of the right? The obvious answer is that there are such considerations. It is a fact that life is biologically impossible without food, water, and air (and perhaps shelter). Therefore, it would make sense to include these items, or rather the obtaining of these items, within the protective moral shield afforded by a natural right such as the right to life, subject of course to a like protective moral shield afforded to others who already have a similar protective moral shield over their own primary objects of their natural right to life. Thus, it would be morally unjustified to prevent a person from obtaining food, water, and air (and perhaps shelter).

Physical integrity provides another example of a condition that needs to be covered by the umbrella of the protective moral shield afforded by the natural right to life. The protection afforded by the right to life would be meaningless if it would not shield us against life threatening injuries deliberately caused by others (non-deliberate injuries require a separate discussion). Therefore, it is part and parcel of the protective moral shield afforded by the right to life that it covers our physical integrity against deliberate injuries caused by others.

The above discussion leads us to the conclusion that life, biological necessities required for sustaining life, and physical integrity are primary objects that are certainly covered by the protective moral shield afforded by the natural right to life. Another way of saying this is that the Principle of Transference of Rights transmits the protections afforded to life itself by the original natural right to life to items such as biological necessities and physical integrity.

While natural rights afford individuals a protective moral shield which includes life, the biological necessities required to sustain life, and physical integrity, more is needed in a world in which resources are scarce and in which what people ought to do too frequently diverges from that which they actually do. While a protective moral shield affords a *moral protection* to the primary objects of their natural rights, unless the persons who enjoy this moral protection also have a right to *defend* the primary objects of their natural rights against potential violators, the moral protection afforded is meaningless. Therefore, a defense of the primary objects of natural rights must also be included within the scope of the protective moral shield afforded by natural rights. These considerations justify Bill’s premise (2).

Let us summarize what we have done thus far. We can imagine the protective moral shield as consisting of a center and various expanding circles around this center. In the case of the natural right to life, the center is a person’s life. Life then is the ultimate primary object of the natural right to life. The first circle around this center includes biological necessities. The Principle of the Transference of Rights (PTR) transfers the moral protection afforded by the natural right to life from a person’s life to the biological necessities required to sustain life (ceteris paribus). These items, then, are also primary objects protected by the right to life. The second circle includes physical integrity. Just like in the case of the biological necessities, PTR transfers the moral protection afforded by the natural right to life to the physical integrity of a person. Thus, physical integrity becomes another primary object protected by the right to life. The final and most expanded circle so far considered is the defense of all the items included in the previous circles. Defending life, the obtaining of biological necessities, as well as one’s physical integrity is thus another primary object that is covered by the protective moral shield afforded by the natural right to life. Thus, PTR transfers the moral protection afforded by natural rights to the defense of all previous objects of the natural right to life.

The next question, and the most crucial one for present purposes, pertains to the nature and moral status of the means to be employed in the defense of those primary objects of the natural right to life that are already covered by the protective moral shield. And this question pertains directly to premise (3) {or (B3)} of Bill’s argument. As I have suggested in my previous response, premise (B3) can be interpreted in two different ways. In order to see this let us consider only the consequent of premise (B3). It says the following:

(c) A person has a [natural] right to an effective means of defending his life.

We can think of the locution ‘natural right’ in (c) as somewhat analogous to an intensional context such as possible or necessary. Once at least one quantifier is co-present in the same sentence with an intensional context created by the locution ‘natural right’, the question of their relative scope arises. And (c) does contain the quantifier *an effective means*, which in the present context can be taken as an existential quantifier (along the lines of ‘at least one effective means’). There are two possible reading of (c), given that it contains only one quantifier and one intensional context:

(c1) De-Re Reading: There exists an effective means such that a person has a natural right to *it* as means to defend his life.

(c2) De-Dicto Reading: A person has a natural right to the effect that *some* means exist such that they provide effective defense for his life.

Notice the radical difference in meaning between (c1) and (c2). Since in (c1) the scope of the quantifier ‘there exists an effective means’ is outside the scope of the natural right locution, it in effect acts as a directly referential locution that picks out a particular means that satisfies the condition of being effective (or uniquely most effective) to defend a person’s life. The rest of (c1) now must refer back to this particular means picked out by the quantifier with the result that that particular means becomes the object of the natural right one has to defend their life. Therefore, premise (3) in effect transfers the natural right to defend one’s life to a particular means that proves effective (or uniquely effective) in exercising such a defense. This interpretation of premise (3) forces the same interpretation of premise (4), since premise (4) is the consequent of premise (3):

(4*) There exists an effective means such that every human person has a [natural] right to *it* as means of defending his life.

And, now, from premise (4*) and premise (5) which is a singular statement specifying the particular means that are effective to defend one’s life; i.e., a gun, we can validly obtain premise (6).

By contrast, the de-dicto reading of (c2) sets the scope of the natural right locution as wide relative to the scope of the quantifier ‘some means exist’, which has the narrowest scope. Therefore, (c2) means that while a person has a natural right that some means are available or are in place such that they provide effective means for the defense of their life, the nature of these means is not determined by the natural right itself. Therefore, we are not entitled to substitute within (c2) one or another effective means and conclude that these means are themselves primary objects of natural rights and, therefore, are covered by the protective moral shield afforded by the natural right to life. In short, (c2) creates an intensional context within the scope of the natural right locution and substitution within this scope is invalid. Nevertheless, in order for the clause expressed by (c2) to be satisfied, it must be the case that some means are in place that effectively protect the life of a person, regardless of how these means are chosen or determined. In certain circumstances, the means may be secured by positive law in others they can be chosen by the individual. All that (c2) guarantees as a right is that some state of affairs obtains such that it provides effective means to protect the life of the person.

Thus, if we think of the consequent of premise (3) as having a de-dicto reading (i.e., (c2)), then the natural right a person has to defend their life, the obtaining of biological necessities, and the protection of their physical integrity extends only to a natural right to a state of affairs which guarantees an effective protection of these primary objects of natural rights. However, the natural right to defend oneself does not extend to any particular way such a state of affairs is to be implemented. This last point is highlighted by the fact that it is not permissible to substitute in (c2) just any effective means one wishes. Thus, no particular means that are effective in protecting the primary objects of the natural right to life is itself a primary object of this natural right. The only primary object of the natural right to life that involves defense is the natural right to a state of affairs that affords an effective protection of the other primary objects of the natural right to life. Therefore, the circle of protective moral shield includes only this general condition and does not include any specific ways of implementing it. It follows that the principle of Right-Trump-Law protects only the natural right to a state of affairs that affords an effective protection of the other primary objects of natural right such as life against incursion by positive law. Hence, no positive law is entitled to violate *this* natural right. However, the principle of Right-Trump-Law does not apply to any specific means to implement the natural right of protection, because the protective moral shield afforded by the natural right to life does not over any specific effective means that may be employed for such a defense.

Bill has offered a defense of his original premise (3) which consists of emphasizing the absurdity of denying it. However, as I have stated in my previous response, denying premise (3) is absurd only if we give it the de-dicto reading. For under such a reading we are in effect denying a person who has a natural right to defend his life a similar natural right to *any* state of affairs or condition that effectively protects his life. This is indeed absurd. But it is not at all absurd to deny that the natural right to defend one’s life entails a corresponding natural right to specific means that are effective in protecting one’s natural right to life, as this becomes clear when we consider that such a natural right would include the right to obtain and use machine guns, tanks, and other even more ominous weapons in order to defend one’s natural right to life.

Similar considerations apply to Bill’s statement that “to will the ends is to will the means”. This statement implies that willing an end is willing some specific and unique means. But it is more reasonable to say the following: to will the end is to will *some* means. Which means? This depends upon the circumstances, available resources, and many other considerations. The point is that willing some end does not entail willing some specific means as long as they accomplish the end willed. When it comes to means toward some end, many considerations including contextual ones are as central as is the question whether the means are effective in obtaining the end chosen.

peter

Hi Peter,

a quick objection to part of your objection -- you claim:

"But (B5) is false. Take any circumstance whatsoever in which a gun is an effective means to defend one’s life. Then surely a machine gun, a bazooka, or a tank would be equally or more effective."

Your point is clear, but I don't see how a tank (or a nuclear weapon in that case) can be considered an effective means to defend one's life. The point, after all, is to defend your life and not cause mass destruction -- the means has to be optimal for that cause, and a handgun is reasonably the most optimal option.

Regards,
Anton

Anton,

Thank you for your comment.

First, let me point out that the examples of machine guns, tanks, etc., are just the obvious counter-examples to (B5), as it stands. There are others. Another very effective means would be to confiscate all weapons from everyone else; cage everyone else; paralyze everyone else; or even kill everyone else. So the point is that (B5) needs to be modified. How? Well, in order to rule out the latest examples above, one would need some sort of provision to the effect that only those means are permitted that protect the equal rights of others. Some such provision may even incorporate your suggestion to the effect that the means ought to be optimal. But *optimal* in what respects? I guess effective as means to defend oneself and also not threating the equal rights of others and ....

The point that emerges is the very one that I have been trying to make: i.e., the natural right to life is not directly transferable through Bill's premises (2) and (3) to *particular* means such as a gun etc.. Rather what is transferable is the more *general* right that some state of affairs or condition is secured such that (i) it is effective in protecting the natural rights one already has; (ii) it does not thereby threaten the natural rights of others; (iii) and it achieves at least (i) and (ii) in the most optimal fashion overall. Once we see matters in this way, then the question arises which arrangement satisfies (i)-(iii)? There are several answers to this question. Outside a well organized social arrangement it could very well be that the only state of affairs that satisfies the above conditions (and possibly others) is that each individual owns a gun (or whatever optimal means fit the prevailing conditions). Within a social arrangement, it may very well be that some other arrangement satisfies the condition, such as prohibiting gun ownership and having an effective enforcement. In a social arrangement that fails to provide an effective enforcement, the situation may fall back on the first scenario.

So, my central point is that Bill's argument shows at most that we have a general natural right to a state of affairs that provides effective defense for our natural rights. The question of which conditions best satisfies this natural right is now open to broader considerations that introduce many other factors.

peter


Anton,

Thanks for your comment.

Peter,

In line with Anton's point, it seems I could easily reformulate B5. In many circumstances, a gun is the only effective means of defending one's life. Or else I could make precise the term 'effective.' If the debate were about an effective treatment for bone marrow cancer, would it not be assumed that an effective treatment would be one that kills the cancer cells without killing the patient and/or others in the vicinity as opposed to one that simply destroys the cancer? Analogously, on a charitable interpretation of 'effective' in this context, an effective means of defending one's life is a means that would reliably incapacitate and render harmless the sort of assailant one would be likely to encounter, but without causing harm to other people, including the defender, their pets, etc.

Once I tack on some such explanation as I have just given to B5, then B5 strikes me as clearly true.

How about, people have a right to life.

They have a right to self-defence, but deadly force is an extreme option. It is the ultimate last resort.

Likewise, everyone has a right to life, therefore, we should work to remove situations where violent confrontations arise.

If one states that there is a right to life, which is more important life? Or the ability to use deadly force.

By arguing that deadly force is the first option, one removes the legitimacy of stating that one has a right to life.

I have a right to life, but you don't. Does this make sense?

In fact, the right to life position is totally anti-thetical to the current "no duty to retrea"t theory of self-defence. Right to life is in accord to the "back to the wall" theory of self-defence, where every opportunity to deescalate or withdraw from the situation has to be eliminated making deadly force the LAST option.

The right to life position means that a reasonable person would use reasonable force to end the threat.

If pepper spray is an option, then you must use that rather than deadly force.

Sorry, but being pro-gun is totally antithetical to being "right to life".

Laci the Dog,

The intent of Bill's argument is to ground the right to own a gun upon a chain of rights emanating first from the springs of the right to life, through the rivers of the right to self-defense, and finally through the channels of the right for an effective means of self defense. If Bill's irrigation technique works and the flow of rights springing from the right to life smoothly ends with irrigating the right to own a gun, then this final right of gun ownership would achieve the goal of blocking positive law against restrictions upon gun ownership.

The questions you raise do not pertain to *this argument*. They pertain to subsequent issues about suitable conditions under which guns may be used compared to other alternative means of deterrence in cases of threat. If Bill's argument is sound, then he would have established the right to own a gun: period!

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