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Natural Rights

Natural Rights

2 Mins
September 28, 2010

Question: If a human is born with inalienable rights that were given to him by his creator, how do you explain natural rights with an atheist viewpoint?

Answer: Rights are fundamental political principles. As such, they are based in morality. They summarize how human beings ought to be treated in a social context, and what are the fundamental ways in which we ought to deal with others. Objectivism holds that there is basically one fundamental right: the right to live free from force. Other rights apply, extend, or support this fundamental right.

Rights are "natural" in the same way any true principle is natural: It is based on facts of reality. See my FAQ "Why Should One Act on Principle?" for more details.

So people are not "born with" these rights. In fact, that is absurd; rights are principles we discover and learn to apply. What people are born with is the natural capacities for reason and independent living, and the biological need for material goods, that are the essential bases for individual rights to life, liberty, and property.

Ayn Rand encapsulated this point in Atlas Shrugged, when she wrote:

If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. (p. 986, 1959 paperback)

A supernatural creator has nothing to do with justifying rights. Indeed, we could not in justice call a moral rule originating in a supernatural creator "natural." In essence, "nature" is what can be known by reason; the supernatural, it is said, is the un-natural, that which cannot be known by reason. Theist defenders of rights would therefore do better to call their view "supernatural rights theory." But fortunately, defenders of natural rights in the past for the most part based their view on rational arguments related to the facts of human nature, and not merely on religious whims.

I hope this answer helps you understand the issue more clearly. Please troll around our website and see what else you can learn there. Read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead and discover Ayn Rand's worldview. I hope you will stay interested in Objectivism and come to see that a rational worldview is one of optimism and confidence in the powers of human knowledge.



William Thomas

William R Thomas writes about and teaches Objectivist ideas. He is the editor of The Literary Art of Ayn Rand and of Ethics at Work, both published by The Atlas Society. He is also an economist, teaching occasionally at a variety of universities.

William Thomas
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William Thomas
Law / Rights / Governance
Political Philosophy