Front Page Titles (by Subject) Establishing Human Rights - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Establishing Human Rights - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Establishing Human Rights
“A Reconsideration of Natural Rights Theory.” American Philosophical Quarterly 18(forthcoming, 1981).
Professor Machan revives his efforts to show that a program sketched by Martin P. Golding (Monist, Oct. 1968), stipulating which conditions must be fulfilled to establish the existence of human rights, can best be fulfilled within the framework of natural rights theory. Golding says that we must (1) have the idea of humanity at large—or human nature—as well as (2) the capacity to distinguish between individual human beings and others, and, finally, (3) a conception of the good life for human beings, in order to show that there are human rights.
The first requirement must overcome numerous current objections to the existence of natures or essences. These objections rest on a belief that for natures to exist they would have to be absolutely, timelessly fixed. Since that cannot be established without traversing infinity, the idea of natures is rejected (e.g., there can be no human nature). But “the nature of X” means only that within the most rational frame of reference, given the impossibility of contradictions in reality, some conception of the basic characteristics of X is fully justified. So viewed, human nature could exist.
The second requirement calls upon us to show that we can identify individuals, distinguish them from others and from other kinds, and that can be shown by reference to the creative mental powers of human beings, powers that enable them to differentiate and integrate the evidence they obtain from the world. It is here, also, that we learn that human nature consists of what Ayn Rand calls “volitional consciousness,” the chosen rational capacity of a biological entity we call “man”. Various problems about borderline cases have, of course, to be handled, and issues raised by Kuhn and Feyerabend and others who remain skeptical about the possibility of correctly identifying reality need to be addressed.
Golding's third requirement asks: given that human beings are beings of volitional consciousness, what is the good human life? It is the full realization of human life in the case of the individual that one is. And “human” here means “rational by choice,” so that the good life for human beings is one that is a morally good life, necessarily of persons' own making (since they must choose to exercise the faculty and capacity that will make for their excellence). Of course, the function of such a choice is to make for an excellent life for the individual person who makes it, partly because it is not possible to choose for others in a way that can be morally efficatious for them, partly because such a choice would prevent others from carrying their own weight, morally speaking.
This last ushers in natural rights, the social conditions that human nature requires. In society, it is important that the standards by which persons can be friends or foes can be codified and enforced. These standards pertain to the sphere of persona, independent authority over one's life that any adult should procure as a morally responsible being. The rights to life, liberty, and property are standards that serve to spell out the sphere of such authority. Golding's program would thus appear to be fulfilled.