Montreal, December 17, 2006 No 206

 

CAPITALISM & COMMERCE

 

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is a Professor of Accountancy and Business Administration at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

 
 

NATURAL RIGHTS AS DERIVED FROM ETHICAL EGOISM: T. R. MACHAN'S RANDIAN APPROACH

 

by Edward W. Younkins

 

          Unlike Rasmussen and Den Uyl, prominent philosopher of human flourishing, Tibor R. Machan, approaches the derivation of natural rights by way of ethical egoism. For Machan, rights are a moral concept rather than a metanormative one. His strong case for natural rights and the legitimacy of the minimal state rests on a classical egoist account of morality.

 

          Building upon the thought of Ayn Rand and Aristotle, Machan argues in a series of books that each person should pursue his rational self-interest as a matter of his primary moral responsibility. He explains that it is from this responsibility that every other moral principle, including the principle of natural rights, gains its justification. Rights are identified by an understanding of human nature as having a moral dimension.

          Machan argues that human beings are moral agents who ought to live to attain their flourishing and happiness this involves success as a rational and unique human person. A person should live rationally within the context of his own situation and potentialities. Each human being is responsible for doing well at living his own life. The implications are that morally each individual should be left free from, and should seek protection from, interferences by others. Natural rights specify such conditions which all people ought to provide for themselves and for other human beings. Given that each person is responsible to achieve his own human flourishing, the society that is proper for him is one in which his individual freedom is secured. Natural rights specify what social conditions are right or good for people by virtue of their human nature.

          Secure natural rights are essential to living a moral life within a human community. Machan explains that, if a person chooses to be part of a human community, he is implicitly agreeing to the required conditions for such an association. These conditions include respect for the sovereignty of enforceable natural rights. Each person is an individual capable of rational choice. This requires the type of political community in which individual human beings may flourish. This type of community is one that upholds individual rights. These rights are moral principles applicable to all human beings.
 

"Machan explains that, if a person chooses to be part of a human community, he is implicitly agreeing to the required conditions for such an association. These conditions include respect for the sovereignty of enforceable natural rights."


          Machan's vision of natural rights rests on ethical egoism's view that human beings ought to pursue their flourishing and happiness. He observes that natural rights are determined by the fact that a person is a human being who has morally chosen to pursue a good and happy social and political life. From the fact of one's moral responsibility to live a flourishing life and from one's choice to do so in a social context, it follows that he is obligated to respect others' rights. He must do this in order to fulfill his initially chosen responsibility to develop himself to the fullest extent as dictated by his human nature and his individual facticity.

          Rasmussen and Den Uyl agree with Machan that, based on the nature of man and the world, certain natural rights can be identified and an appropriate political order can be instituted. Rasmussen and Den Uyl base their view of natural rights as metanormative principles on the universal characteristics of human nature that call for the protection and preservation of the possibility of self-directedness in society regardless of the situation. Because they do not base natural rights on human flourishing, they believe they have formulated a strong argument for a non-perfectionist and non-moralistic minimal-state politics.

          Machan, on the other hand, bases his argument for natural rights as normative principles on the premise that the moral task of each person is his flourishing as a human being and as the unique individual that he is. For him, rights are moral principles which apply to people within a social context and which are protected by the minimal state.

          Rasmussen and Den Uyl see a problem in putting what Machan has called a moral principle (i.e., natural rights) as the subject of political action or control. Their goal is to abandon the idea that politics is institutionalized ethics. They say that statecraft is not soulcraft and that politics is not appropriate to make men moral. Although Rasmussen and Den Uyl and Machan have addressed the idea of natural rights from different directions and perspectives, they have supplied us with two excellent derivations of the powerful idea of natural rights.
 

 

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