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I know this is quite laborious, but I was wondering, am I not making myself clear? I mean, I’ve written a whole heap on this and the ideas behind what I say, and the conclusions aren’t that complex to understand, no?

Of course, we’re back to my conceptual nominalism thing again. Read here if you are not familiar with my claims:

In response to my first piece linked above, regular commenter Verbose Stoic posted a riposte on his own blog. In it, he criticised me for making somewhat grand philosophical proclamations and building a philosophical case and then expecting laymen adversaries to be able to refute that in order to keep to their conclusions. As he stated:

So this expression of his frustration really bugs me:

It’s really frustrating, because I have debunked their position until they can show me I haven’t.

I have to say that philosophy doesn’t work that way, and Pearce should know that.  If he outlines what he considers to be a “debunking” of their position, that doesn’t mean that he can then dismiss them entirely unless they can refute that debunking, presumably to his satisfaction.  If they never accepted his position in the first place, then from their perspective there’s nothing to debunk.  While the best philosophers will want to refute any reasonable challenges to their position, the people he’s dealing with aren’t even philosophers, and so likely won’t be able to and won’t see the need to refute what they consider to be odd and unreasonable positions.  And even philosophers will ignore purported debunkings that they don’t consider worth addressing.  So while I can understand his frustration at seeing the same points raised over and over again, I and others who don’t find his foundation as solid as he thinks it is will also be frustrated at how much he relies on that foundation to dismiss counter-arguments to even his more controversial opinions.

This bugs me, as he would say.

Don’t come to my (or another person’s) overtly philosophical blog and take umbrage with a piece of philosophy without showing the slightest inclination to do any philosophy, including even seemingly being bothered to read my pieces and understand them. Don’t come onto my turf and attack me and my conclusions without showing any willingness to understand how I got there. And my case isn’t tough to understand. I have overtly attempted to lay out the case for payment o understand. Heck, that’s kinda the point of my blog.

I could go on, but I think this criticism is unwarranted. The original commenter and the one below are welcome to their opinion, but keep it to locations other than this one and other philosophical blogs seeking to do philosophy, to discuss it, and to defend it from actual philosophical criticisms.

I wouldn’t go to a quantum physicist’s blog and claim their conclusions were bullsh!t, but provide no understanding of the theory and no willingness to interact with their theory, merely restating time and again that the conclusion is bullish!t.

That’s what trolls do.

Don’t be a troll. And don’t defend them in their trollishness.

On VS’s blog piece, occasional libertarian guns right commenter Cargosquid posted the following comment attacking me to which I will respond interlinearly:

My reply to HIS reply to your post above. He rejects the ideas of inalienable rights altogether. So….

Technically, already wrong. I reject that these rights have ontic existence, and are thus constructed by humans. They then become pragmatically useful when encoded into law and, and then enforced. They become more “real” when manifested as legal rights.

Well, here’s the problem.
Your willful rejection of the fact of inalienable rights.
Weird how you are all so fearful of the idea that humans are limited in their actions with each other.

I literally don’t understand what this means.

No inalienable right to arms?
So…who gave you the privilege to pick up a rock to defend yourself? Who gave you the privilege of living? Who is your superior?

Conflation of terms and some form of fallacy of equivocation. Are we talking objective natural rights that exist in some aether somehow and somewhere, or a privilege, however that is defined and whatever its ontology?

Let’s go with the right to nukes.

Since the author brought up the absurd argument, let’s go with it.

You are an autonomous person.
No other human is your moral superior, thus, no one can disarm you unless you threaten them.

This is utterly devoid of context. Does he suppose this scenario as being devoid of context? So some nebulous scenario of mere self-evident rights or something? I’m confused.

You have the human rights to self defense and to keep and bear arms.

This is precisely what he has not established. This is about the ontology of rights. Please, please, please, please, please stop just arguing back to me by ignoring the whole debate and assuming the very thing I have argued against, and doing it by assertion, by throwing the assumption into a sentence and running with it. FFS.

See the ability to use tools.


You do NOT have the right to harm innocents in that self defense. Self defense includes defense of your freedom.

Explain this. Show this. Don’t just assert stuff over and over again without the faintest interaction with what I have said over and over and over again.

We can all play assertion games. My dad is God; he’s a badger made out of tulips; ginger people are morally superior; helicopters are the spawn of Satan, who is himself a unicorn.

Great. But unless I can in some way substantiate these claims, then this is all meaningless waffle. Some of it may be correct, but it is not rationally justified unless I can at least do something towards rationally justifying any claim.

I wouldn’t go to a political blog and assert, over and over, that socialism or libertarianism or whatever is the best, and then refuse to substantiate my claim with any kind of political thought every time I was challenged, and then just repeated my claim by assertion over and over.

Therefore, the tools you use for that defense are subject to the liability of harming innocents.
You have the right to keep and bear ANY tools for that defense, but not the right to harm others in their use.

Okay. Imagine all history is non-existent. Imagine humans, too. We just have a lion and an antelope. Would there be rights here? Would a lion have the right to harm an antelope? It’s not self-defence, but it needs to do it to survive.

Bring humans back in. No history, just an out-of-context scenario. There’s a baker, he has some loaves of bread. Your family is starving. There is no other way to enable them to live right now than to break the law and steal that bread. Is stealing a form of self-defence? Is self-defence an objectively meaningful term that exists absent of human conception? How does the right exist in war? When there are deemed necessary collateral deaths? What does he make of Hiroshima?

What if the only way for one of two people to survive was to eat the other? So that self-defence (ie, to defend one’s life from death) is to kill the other person?

Right to life? Right to property? Laws vs rights? I can explain all of this in my worldview, but can he? What if you now introduce harm into this sort of thought experiment?

Technically, in principle, if you can use a nuke in self defense, without harming innocents in any way, you can do so. There is no human that has the moral authority to stop you from defending YOURSELF. They do have the moral authority to stop the harm to innocents.

Who gets to declare what an innocent is? What if I think someone is not innocent but they are, or vice versa, or in between? Is there a difference between intent and actuality, such that an individual’s knowledge of a given scenario also has import? Do these things objectively affect an objective right?

Therefore, as the effect of a weapon becomes more indiscriminate, the use of such becomes less legitimate. THAT, however, does NOT rule out ownership or use in the above described conditions.

Of course, I understand the difference between these weapons, and can understand why, for pragmatic purposes, we would legislate them very differently. But that is pragmatics. What we are talking about is a right to, well, anything. He says a right to life, a right to self-defence, and any other such right are somehow natural and objective.

So, can I posit that for other rights? A right to bodily self-autonomy?

He might be an anti-choicer. So he might argue the right to self-defence and life of the foetus trumps this. He would have to show me how he can objectively establish this. How has he got access to the mind-independent realm where these rights exist so that he really knows that one trumps another?

And how does trumping work in a mind-independent realm? Is one right abstractly etched onto the invisible line above the other right…?

In this case, such conclusions would also depend on an objective definition and understanding of a “human being”, “personhood”, “essence” and suchlike. So we can’t get away from this debate about ontology because that is exactly what the pro-choice/anti-choice debate is.

See: What Is Personhood? Setting the Scene.

It’s the same argument.

Outside of war, the above applies to civilized people.

Assertion. How so? And how do you know? How have you confirmed your assertion?

And if you are threatened by another person/government with a weapon, it is perfectly moral for YOU to own and respond in kind.

How so? What does “in kind” even mean? Are you now allowed to kill innocents? How does a soldier now become representative of a government so you can now kill them not in immediate self-defence? How does a right to self-defence, arms and anything else now translate across? How does he know?

Indeed, war makes a whole hash out of such a natural rights assertion.

Our government is authorized to do violence on our behalf, including the use of WMD.

Authorised by whom? Says who? The UN? Charters? Conventions on human rights? Are these not constructed? Can they not be changed? Indeed, what happened before them? And what of unelected governments and dictatorships? What of humans forced into conscription who disagree with their dictator? Do we now have the right to kill them?

I can think of all sorts of different questions and scenarios that make a merry hell of the notion of ontic existence of rights. Indeed, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to create universalised laws and rules that involve war and every single weird context you could imagine.

It’s nonsense.

If it is moral for them, it is moral for us…because they only have the authority and power DELEGATED to them from the people.

Eh? Do all the people have to agree for that delegation to work? Does a representative democracy have a better delegation than one using first past the post? What if there is corruption involved? What if it’s a theocracy or a dictatorship?

This is just assertion in a rational vacuum. He’s not even trying.

Nowhere is the privilege to use weapons granted to anyone. Society? Show me where. Who has the authority to decide how and why or even if you can defend yourself?

What’s he talking about? What privilege? Where’s he talking about? Who’s doing the granting?

Rights are recognized as existing, not granted.

By whom? What does “recognized” mean? This is an utter jumbled mess. Yes, he may be a layman, but he is commenting on a philosophical blog and not even trying to substantiate a single claim.

If inalienable human rights do not exist, then no human has ANY rights.

This is where he needs to be more specific, because rights do exist, primarily in the form of legal rights. This, her has a right bear arms in the US whereas I don’t, because our legal frameworks are different. Thankfully, otherwise our cities would be rife with gun death.

Therefore, all concerns about slavery and abuse by other governments such as North Korea and Communist China are nonsense. Whatever someone with power wants to do to you, is right and proper. If rights do not exist, you literally have no cause for complaint. Might makes right.

Absolute nonsense. We construct laws within societies, cultures, countries, and internationally. And we improve them if they suck. For instance, slavery used to be allowed in the Bible and in the US, but now we have realised it is abhorrent. And, I would argue, this is evidence for my position and not his.

Might does not make right. Moral philosophy makes right (with caveats of careful definitions here), ideally enshrined within law, and robustly enforced. Sometimes we get laws wrong – look at history – so we have to somehow amend or get rid of sucky ones.

Resistance against abuse could be seen as wrong, since those in power have legitimate authority to do anything they wish.

Confused. If they have legitimate authority, would it be wrong? How is he defining things here? Not really sure what he is trying to say.

If you have no rights, all you have is privileges granted by those in power. And privileges can be withdrawn at any time.”

I would argue that, for the intents and purposes of this piece and this sentence, rights and privileges are pretty synonymous. I would argue that rights, when completely abstract and argued philosophically, are moral desires. They only become a “right” as such when transformed into a legal right.

He NEVER answers those questions as to where these privileges are authorized. Or why any treatment is objectionable if rights don’t exist.

Eh? I most certainly do answer questions. But they need to be coherent and coming from a source of good-faith dialogue. Of course, this is UTTERLY hypocritical since he attempts no engagement, let alone answering my questions, with anything I have written.

Assertion on assumption on assertion on assumption.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...