Jejudo, South Korea
"You are saying that we can only have rights if we can willfully lose them. How do we gain them in the first place then? By virtue of being an American? By being born? We've been through this already- and nobody's going to agree."
--We gain them by being recognized as a member of a society. This is generally seen as being a human being but 'human' and 'personhood' are too malleable. Dave talks about a scientific explanation but we're not talking about science, we're using our ability to recognize another person as a person, as 'one of us' and that can mean anything to anyone. Your earlier point about slavery is right on the money. Want to have slaves but believe in human rights, presto, an African man or woman becomes a sub-man or sub-woman. You don't like Jews? You do the same thing. Don't like Bin Laden, he's no longer human.
--So, you're right we won't agree on what is human, but is there another way that makes it extremely difficult to make these arbitrary disctinctions? I think the ability to speak a language, the ability to talk back, to disagree, to engage in conversation is a factor that we recognize even if we don't want to recognize them as human.
--In "Silence of the Lambs" there's a scene where the wannabe transexual talks to his victim as if it were a thing, but he loses it, and talks to his victim as if she were a human. At that moment, it is a recognition of a common factor, he's not crazy, as Hanibal Lector pointed out, he's trying to be crazy. Intuitively, he knows that what he does is something he's doing to someone like him.
--It is extremely difficult, I think, to maintain the mirage of a non-language user when they can talk back to you. Not impossible but extremely hard to do. As you point out, a slave has responsibilities but no rights; in order to deny rights, you also have to deny the ability to speak and understand to a slave and that, by definition, severely limits his responsibilities.
--If you do talk to a slave as a member of a language community, it becomes a self-performative contradiction. He can't be a slave by this approach. The same goes for women and/or any other ethnic group. Opeth is correct, however, that this rights/responsibilites coin if you will is not currently abided by. I think it should.
"Fetuses lose their right to life through abortion. They don't violate anybody else's rights. You say rights and responsibilities are connected:"
--But I think Serenity's point, "as long as there are coat hangers" is extremely poignant. A woman has the ability to terminate a fetus, the question is should she have the right? It's not a case of conflicting rights but a case between a woman's ability and society's acceptance. If abortion were illegal, what do we do to the woman if she breaks the law. That is the issue. As a member of a language community she can make the case for a right, but it's the society of language users that ultimately determine whether she should have that right (and she's a member of that society). I agree that the 'rights' of a fetus have a tremendous 'leverage' ability; but I suggest that that 'leverage' is based on an untenable thesis. It falls apart when looked at closely.
"If a fetus doesn't have any responsibilities, it can't fail to live up to them. If it doesn't break any responsibilities, what gives us the right to infringe upon their rights?"
--But a fetus doesn't have any rights because it can't do anything with them. 'A right to life' is the responsibility of others not to kill (Tim would argue that this is semantics and it is but it shifts, I think, the debate in a clearer direction). A society can certainly restrain the ability of it's members but it can't control a 'right to life' because a society can't control the world: a hurricane, an earthquake, lightning, a wild bear etc. What is a right to life mean except in a social context?
The rationalization that they are not yet born?
--birth, in this approach, does not confer rights. Rights are given to members of a language community.
--This is where Interloper's point about age comes in. By this approach, a four year old can have rights but an infant cannot. But can you have meaningful debate on rights with a four year old? Should we? In order to be a recognized member of a language community, it has to take time. How much time is arbitrary, society decides by making a rough guess as to where someone has had enough training to be recognized as a member of a community (passing or failing is dependent on your ability to participate and training is based on age or length of time agreed upon). But that can be 21, 18, 16, 13 -- any age is possible.
If, for example, we could have a conversation with dolphins, with elephants, AI or ET, then all these, by definition, would be let into the community. But of course this would have to be a community recognized conversation. We already have people who have imaginary conversations with soccer balls.
But soccer balls don't talk back.