Natural Rights and the Moral Foundations of Libertarianism

0003_george_h_smithby  GEORGE H. SMITH

Part One: MAY 28, 2013

Libertarianism does not say how we should live our personal lives; it merely says that if we choose to interact with others, we should do so by voluntary means. And it goes on to apply this basic social imperative to the political sphere by following a procedure that I call political reductionism. This means that all legitimate political rights must ultimately be reducible to the rights of individuals. Individuals do not gain special or exclusive rights by combining into groups or by calling themselves a “government.” Thus if a government coerces people in the name of a “right” that no individual could possibly possess, then we know that it is acting unjustly.

Part Two: JUNE 4, 2013

As some natural-rights philosophers saw the matter, the problem of moral obligation was inextricably linked to human motives. In other words, even if I agree that rights are a social necessity, why should I be motivated to respect the rights of other people in particular cases, especially if I think that my self-interest will be served by violating their rights?

Some philosophers, such as Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, attempted to solve this problem by appealing to a “moral sense.” According to this approach, which had variations that I cannot discuss here, humans have an innate sense of right and wrong; and though this capacity does not tell us specifically what is good and what is evil, it does motivate us to pursue the good after reason has identified it.

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3 thoughts on “Natural Rights and the Moral Foundations of Libertarianism

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