>Are there such things as "inalienable rights" & "self-evident truths"?

>An inalienable right is one that cannot be taken or given away from/by the possessor. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are supposedly such rights, as indicated by the US Declaration of Independence, which says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This second sentence of the declaration also refers to “self-evident” truths. So a second question is can any truths be self-evident?


  • >On the first question there appears to be a difference (although this is somewhat disputed) between 'unalienable' and 'inalienable'. A quick summary is given here: http://www.gemworld.com/USA-Unalienable.htmThe upshot is (assuming you accept the difference between the two) I agree with the concept of inalienable rights but not with the notion of unalienable rights. On the subject of self evident truths, these are tricky but I think I could probably agree that truths are self evident in the present context.

  • >To build on the given definition of unalienable as essentially God-given rights I would say that the idea of a Creator seems to me illogical, especially since if an all-powerful being had told us we should have certain things it seems slightly harder to believe that some do not have those things. I would also say that there are very few things that cannot be taken without a Creator's/person's permission, which seems to refute both inalienable rights and unalienable ones. A state can try to protect an individual's right to life but it cannot succeed in all circumstances because a person's right to life can be taken without their permission. And the same applies to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.But what is a right? Webster has it as "something to which one has a just claim" or "the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled" or "something one may claim as properly due". Notice that these definitions indicate a claim to something rather than possession thereof. Two people could both have a right to one un-sharable object using this definition, and yet it wouldn't negate the right/claim of either to the object. Hence these definitions of rights indicate that you are indeed correct: that rights are inalienable and not unalienable.Rights are often confused with realities. Perhaps this is due to an absence of an absolute "rightness" in rights. But if rights really were 'right' i.e. correct, then everything that happens is correct, and we have no right to complain about anything, ever. This obviously seems absurd, and indicates that the above definitions of rights as claims really is the correct one.Anything can be taken away from a person, whether it be their life, their happiness, their freedom, or even their very sense of who they are. Thus to state that all people have a 'claim' to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that should be supported and protected by the Government does make sense. It does not say that there are some things that cannot be taken from a person. It simply says that regardless people still have a claim to those things, and the Government should help them get them. Actors/agents, including governments may violate your rights; but that doesn't take away the appropriateness of your claim to them. A violation of rights doesn't remove those rights. It simply prevents you from exercising them.

  • >As for whether any truths can be self-evident I also agree that it's a tricky subject. What is truth? What is self-evidence? Some definitions say that truth is something that is proven to be factual, while self-evidence is something that does not need to be proven. These definitions suggest the two cannot go together.Is anything ever 'true' beyond all question to all people? Those who refute science would of course say no. And this indicates that nothing can be self-evident to all. Grass is self-evidently green to you and me. Yet to someone who is colour blind it's not. And to insects that do not see the same range of colours as we do it could seem to be a completely different colour all together.I cannot say that there aren't some facts that really are self-evident but I can't think of any. Even the fact of our existence was questioned by the likes of Descartes. But what I can say is that the following line is certainly questionable, and thus not "self-evident": "we hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

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