Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Question of Rights -- Part 2

As I explained in my previous post, people often have very different ideas of what is good when they are debating a question of rights. Depending on what someone means when they say something is a "right" they will, without fully knowing it, state their moral view and how they believe that it relates to the law, which itself is part of their moral view.

There is what I will refer to for convenience here as BELIEF A, that generally what is immoral should be illegal. In this idea, a legal right supports the good and people need the law to shepard them into a realm of goodness that lies beyond the law and transcends the law. Here the question of what is legal works backward from the question of what is good.

And then there is what I will call BELIEF B, wherein that which is moral and legal exist as overlapping but separate realities and the law has only a very limited ability to shepard people into goodness. In this idea, a legal right is separate from the good, and some legal rights can be a reflection of the good while other things can legal without being necessarily good. This belief is a "legal minimalism" that only works backward from what is imminently bad and harmful to society to decide what should be illegal.

There is another idea of the law and the good that I will call BELIEF C, that the question of what is moral generally follows what is legal. In other words, the legal right is the good. BELIEF C is based on the idea that the collective moral intuition of people operating in a particular time and era figures out the best calculus of what is good and what is legal at any point in time is generally a reflection of what is the best negotiation of a situational morality. Whereas BELIEF B is merely a "legal minimalism", BELIEF C is a moral minimalism wherein anything that is not harmful is good. In this idea, as in BELIEF B, the law should only “shepard people into goodness" in the sense of protecting people from the clear and present harm of others.

These beliefs are not always mutually exclusive. It is also possible that a person may have all of these different dispositions toward the law, operating in paradox and/or cognitive dissonance with each other. There may be certain areas of life where a person holds one view of the law and another area of life where they hold another.

It is also possible for the ideology of one idea of the law to elide into the practice of another. For example, it is possible for a person with a BELIEF C or BELIEF B to come full circle to the practice of BELIEF A when the expression of certain ideas and thoughts are seen as toxic and as "pre-crimes' for bad actions. A broad enough idea of what is “harm” will render that which is not harmful as a de facto a narrow vision of the “good”.

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