June 01, 2006
Does Rhythm Method Of Birth Control Kill Embryos?

A London School of Economics philosophy professor Luc Bovens speculated that perhaps the rhythm method of birth control leads to many more conceptions that happen as eggs are becoming less viable and therefore the embryos do not survive?

It is believed that the method works because it prevents conception from occurring. But says Professor Bovens, it may owe much of its success to the fact that embryos conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are less viable than those conceived towards the middle.

We don’t know how much lower embryo viability is outside this fertile period, contends Professor Bovens, but we can calculate that two to three embryos will have died every time the rhythm method results in a pregnancy.

Is it not just as callous to organise your sex life to make it harder for a fertilised egg to survive, using this method, as it is to use the coil or the morning after pill, he asks?

Professor Bovens cites Randy Alcorn, a US pro-life campaigner, who has equated global oral contraceptive use to chemical abortion that is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of embryos, or unborn children, every year.

But says Professor Bovens: if all oral contraceptive users converted to the rhythm method, then they would be effectively causing the deaths of millions of embryos.

Similarly, regular condom users, whose choice of contraception is deemed to be 95% effective in preventing pregnancy, would “cause less embryonic deaths than the rhythm method,” he says.

“…the rhythm method may well be responsible for massive embryonic death, and the same logic that turned pro-lifers away from morning after pills, IUDs, and pill usage, should also make them nervous about the rhythm method,” he contends.

If embryo death is morally the equivalent of the death of a full human then practices that lead to more embryo deaths should be seen as morally undesirable.

I do not see a clear dividing line between what is human and what is not human. This problem is going to become more obvious to the general population when biotechnology allows the creation of beings that are sentient and yet very unlike the average human.

Also (and I'm digressing here) as another sign that I'm a thorough heretic from secular liberal dogma: I do not see how all humans can be classified as having equal human rights. Humans do not have equal capacities to respect the rights of others (don't believe me? want your kids to live next to a pedophile?). So how can they have equal rights? Seems to me that rights flow from the capacity to respect rights. Seems to me one has to embrace a supernatural belief (God loves us all and we all have spirits) or become thoroughly unempirical about the nature of this world in order to believe we all should have equal rights.

I've only glanced through it but here's the paper (PDF format) which is getting published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 01 09:33 PM  Bioethics Reproduction

Dave said at June 2, 2006 9:22 AM:

I think intentional embryo killing is murder. I'm not religous. I just think about how we has humans would judge animals if they were intentially killing their unborn offspring, I think we would see it clearly as killing life. Same if a bunch of aliens came to earth and started killing unborn babies it would clearly be seen for what it was, why is it murder when someone else does it but not if the mother chooses to do it?

Agree with you in equal rights, and as you mentioned before about the polygamists if people are genetically engineered to prefer an unequal life style what right does mainstream society have to force equality on them? Its a difficult situation cause I do believe in equality where possible ofcourse.

Rob said at June 2, 2006 11:09 AM:

The question is, are the embryos that survive better. Does the rythm method have a mild eugenic effect?

Tom said at June 2, 2006 11:26 AM:

It should be noted that few people use the "rhythm method" anymore, which is simply using a calendar based method. What most people that employ natural methods do is to watch the body signs so as to know when the woman is approaching ovulation, or has ovulated, and avoid sex around that timeframe. If there is no ovulation, there can be no baby, which reduces the issue to how confident one is that there will be no egg present in the lifetime of the sperm. So if one accepts that embryos on the fringe of the fertile period are less likely to survive, and one has a moral problem with this, one merely has to extend the period when one abstains or uses alternate birth control. At some point after ovulation, there is a zero percent chance of conception.

Tom said at June 2, 2006 11:32 AM:

Randall: "Humans do not have equal capacities to respect the rights of others (don't believe me? want your kids to live next to a pedophile?). So how can they have equal rights?"

Seems you've made a logical jump here. You assume that one's rights come from the capacity to respect the rights of others. This is hardly self-evident or universal, as many people think that murderers have a right to life.

Robert Silvetz said at June 2, 2006 12:02 PM:


From conception to many months thereafter it is not yet a human being. It's the inability of folks to grasp the difference between potential and actual. An acorn is not an oak tree. If you crushed tens of thousands of acorns you wouldn't accuse anyone of destroying oak trees.

There is a deep-seated resentment in the minds of many on abortion and I believe it's a species survival mechanism. It's a recognition that we need offspring to keep the cycle going and that when things were dangerous that fertility was esential to survival. Like so many useless things in a modern day civilization, we have to get past this.

Robert Silvetz said at June 2, 2006 12:08 PM:


As an M.D., let me tell you -- you seem to be assuming unerring senses and unerring ovulation. Women, have, do and continue, to conceive on any day of the cycle. The rythm method hardly was accurate to begin with so.... Which is why barrier methods, IUDs and OCP crushed the method.

Randall Parker said at June 2, 2006 3:36 PM:


Ayn Rand argued that our nature as rights-possessing beings flows from our capacity for rational thought. My reaction to here argument is that her formulation is incomplete. She was moving in the right direction. But stopped short.

You can not have rights that have any value unless other people respect them. Some parts of the world have societies with considerable respect for individual rights because a large majority are willing to respect the rights of others and to support efforts to protect the rights of others. Other parts of the world do not have enough people who think that way. Consequently they do not have much in the way of rights.

Even with the murderers few people want those people left to roam free. They've basically taken the position that the murderers should be kept in very small rooms with very few rights beyond the right to life and basic sustenance.

If a substantial fraction of the populace in a Western country starts genetically engineering their offspring to be psychopathic criminals others in that country will soon find themselves with few rights at all.

Tom said at June 2, 2006 3:39 PM:

Robert - so what do you think the chances of ovulation on day 1 of the cycle are? How about before the period, 13 days after ovulation?

Tom said at June 2, 2006 3:50 PM:

Randall: "You can not have rights that have any value unless other people respect them."

I'd buy that - I'd even take that a step farther. Rights seem to me to be a construct of man: they don't exist, except as far as people agree as to their existance. At a minimum, they can't be shown to exist. So we may talk of peoples' rights being violated in a society that doesn't think those rights exist at all.

We can come up with consistant philosophies as to who has which rights, but since people don't agree on those philosophies, they don't get us very far... that seems to be Rand's stumbling block.

Randall Parker said at June 2, 2006 4:05 PM:


Other species are brutal to their offspring. A few weeks ago the New York Times ran a great article about this.

In one bird species (probably not the only one) the mother gives most of the food to just one offspring and gradually starves the other even if lots of food is available. Then if the bigger and better fed one one continues to do well eventually the bigger one is allowed to kill the other as mom calmly watches.

The article had lots of other examples of nasty things that parents in various species do to their offspring. One bird moves too fast and basically causes most of its chicks to die of exhaustion trying to follow it.

Find the article. It has lots of stories about what natural selection actually selected for in maternal behavior. It is not nice at all.

Randall Parker said at June 2, 2006 4:09 PM:


I agree about Rand. She had a philosophy and tried to make human nature fit her dream. She was wrong just like the communists were wrong and just like the libertarians are wrong.

I agree that rights exist because we agree to make them exist. But where does the desire come from that leads to that agreement? I am quite willing to bet money that there are genetic attributes that make that desire more or less likely and that those genetic attributes are not equally distributed around the world. Hence different levels of respect for rights.

Dave said at June 2, 2006 5:44 PM:

But Robert, it isn't something we need to get past, all Western countries have below replacement birth-rates, we need a return to respecting life as sacred.

I don't think the acorn comparison is a fair one, most don't even start growning. If you destroyed an acorn that had become buried and had started growing then yes I'd say it was destroying an oak tree.

Randall, I was aware that this happens in the animal kindom, I was thinking of crocodiles that were eating their own offspring. I think most humans who didn't previously know are shocked by the cruelty of nature. One of my aunts is a so called animal lover who wont watch wild life programmes on Africa because she doesn't like the killings.
I don't think that changes my point though, if people saw an animal intentially killing unborn offspring they would see it has killing, when humans do it they pretend its not real life.

Robert Silvetz said at June 2, 2006 6:07 PM:

I had so wanted to duck Randall's comment on rights. Well, here's more oil for the fire. No. Rand is right at the 99%+ level on fundamentals. The libertarians are generally right and the communists are wrong because humanity doesn't behave like ants. This is another discussion however. Back to rights:

As opposed to being free of secular dogma, it's more like not understanding rights in the Enlightenment context at all. Rights have the function of placing institutionalized force (e.g. the law) under objective control. They exist for the dual purpose of keeping government restrained as the greatest threat on the liberty of man (hint:who killed 100 (300?) million last century?), and of course, to keeping force between individuals from taking place.

It doesn't matter one whit whether or not someone respects rights as to whether they have rights. The two issues have nothing to do with each other. The Founder's, for example, understood that all humans are unequal, differ in capacity, behavior and temperament (so genetics matter not one whit either). What they implemented a la Locke, is a system where we were all equal before the law with rights acting as the mechanism to arbitrate justice. In order for that to work, the differences of state between humans are made to play no part. By the way, rights are by definition, universals applicable to everyone. If I can do something you can't, I have a priveledge, especially if it is granted by government fiat -- which is what we are really saying. If we are unequal in rights, we are not talking rights, we are talking about government-granted priveledges and we are back to a caste system, based on science as opposed to birth lineage. This is, at the heart, part of the admonition that if the rights of one are violated, then none have rights.

So, how do we diminish rights a la Parker? Which rights go by the wayside because someone has criminal tendencies? Or worse, who and what gets curtailed when the Disagreeable Behavior Genetic Profile Scarlet Letter is affixed to the Universal Government Citizen identifier record? Do thieves lose all their property rights? What kind of criminal gets declared not-quite-equal with some ending up being more-equal-than-others a la Animal Farm? Do you see the absurdity of what's being advocated? Who gets to be a member of the elite because of genetics? Or maybe it's the reverse -- who gets sanctioned to sub-human?

In the RP-diminished-rights universe, the pedophile's house is raided on the word of a fearful parent, the SWAT team swoops in, shoots him -- (they're trigger happy like so many SWAT teams and it happens all the time, he resisted and he's a pedophile after all...), seizes all his computers, gets second class hospital treatment, shuttled off to jail after a judge no jury hearing. Ooops. The parent lied ("I did it to safeguard my children"). Ooops, an innocent was shot. Ooops, an innocent suffered with pain in the hospital.

So how many rights have been violated here in this story? Presumption of innocence. Habeus corpus. Warrant upon probable cause. Right to life. Right to be secure in home and possessions. Due process. Trial by jury. Right to counsel. Oh that's right -- Genetic Scarlet Letter profile ensured the guy had no rights. God forbid he excersized his 2nd Amendment rights and shot the jack-boot thugs dead as doornails.

Now imagine it was a case of mistaken identity. Now imagine someone totally innocent. Now imagine it was you. Now imagine you are a Jew. Now imagine you are black. Now imagine you are a political activist. Now imagine you are a political activist that is successful at being a thorn in the government's side. Now you've been declared a terrorist -- and you have no rights -- even under Geneva Convention. Sucks if one is innocent doesn't it?

See why rights are important and must never be curtailed?

Do y'all see why you're rights CANNOT and MUST NOT be attached to the alleged conduct/status/gene profile/etc?

Robert Silvetz said at June 2, 2006 6:14 PM:

Hi Dave,

Yes. We have to get past this. I suspect you are speaking mostly out of fear and not rationality. If you banned abortion right now, the birthrate wouldn't budge. Western Civilization is dying because the free energy of the populus (in income, in freedom) is approaching dictatorial-induced minimalist levels. The powers that be over-farmed the cattle and the cattle are dying off. It's really that simple.

If you want the birthrate to takeoff again, make it profitable again to have children.

E.g. Get the total tax rate down to 15%, deregulate the economy like crazy, return to freedom, and there will be enough surplus energy amongst couples to go have kids.

Robert Silvetz said at June 2, 2006 6:16 PM:

And Dave,

Most conceptions don't go to term either..... regardless of abortion. All those delayed periods that couples experience? Delayed period my ass -- spontaneous abortion...

malcolm said at June 2, 2006 9:58 PM:


I am interested in hearing your opinion on

1) FATHERS' rights wrt to abortion
2) Child support payments (even when the father had no intention of becoming one)
3) Starving an infant/invalid to death (If they had any more than potential life, they would fend for themselves no?)

I am of course just playing devil's advocate here.

crush41 said at June 2, 2006 9:59 PM:


I'll go back two millenia prior to the founding fathers and go with Aristotle--that the man (and he wouldn't be so generous with the term) who cannot cerebrate rationally is indeed endowed with a different set of 'rights'. Other Occidental figures dwarfing the founders more or less have said the same thing; Aquinas, for example: "Man has free choice to the extent that he is rational." Someone not respecting the rights of others, assuming an adequate system for doling out punitions, is irrational. Thus, the rights 'granted' are universal, even though they are not enjoyed equally by all people.

For your charge against Randall to have merit, he would have to argue that in a case of absolute equity between two fully rational people that one should have rights superceding the other. But he's not making that argument. He is arguing that rights should be universal in their application, but he recognizes that there cannot feasibly be a binary bundle of rights or no rights at all, determinable only by whether or not a sentient being can be adaquetly characterized as human. And so, the application of rights is contingent upon some criteria set. The treatment granted parents over minors (and the restriction of their rights) demonstrates this.

It's principally the same as when one might get into a speculative discussion on happiness. Believe there's a formula for happiness? Yes. Believe it's different for everyone? Yes. Then you're a relativist? No. Oh? The formula isn't relative, but it is different across people, due to a host of considerations (like genes, etc). This is absolutism with the recognition of individual uniqueness.

Why must the definition of rationality be set? New information has and will continue to expand that definition. Taking the theoretical to the 'logical' extreme can, theoretically, debunk any sort of value system. Best not to arrest anyone for anything, as the possibility of a type I error is always nagging.

Robert Schwartz said at June 2, 2006 11:54 PM:

In ordinary human reproduction ova are fertilized in the woman's fallopian tubes. The embryo begins cellular division and descends to the uterus. This transit takes about 5 days. At that point the embryo is a blastocyst consisting of about 100 cells and having an inner and outer layer. If it implants in the uterus wall, a pregnancy results, and if all goes well a baby will be born about 37 weeks later. If the blastocyst does not implant, it will die and be flushed out of the uterus.

In IVF, ova are removed from a womans ovaries, placed into vitro, fertilized with sperm, allowed to undergo several divisions and introduced into a woman's uterus. Often the introduction is delayed until the embryo has grown to be a blastocyst. If a an IVF cycle creates an excessive number of blastocysts, they may be frozen in liquid nitrogen. When needed the blastocysts can be defrosted and introduced into a uterus.

My questions include, what is the status of the blastocyst while it is frozen in liquid nitrogen. It seems to be dead, but it might live in the future. Since less than half of IVF procedures result in pregnancy, what is the morality of introducing a blastocyst into a uterus. If it is not so introduced, it will never develop.

For me, there is more perplexity than certainty in any of this.

Tom said at June 3, 2006 6:29 AM:

Robert - "All those delayed periods that couples experience? Delayed period my ass -- spontaneous abortion..."

Some of them are, but many are not. Stress often screws up the menstrual cycle, delaying ovulation, sometimes by a week or more. Travel seems to screw up a lot of womens' cycles , probably for this reason. (To your previous point, this certainly makes tracking ovulation more difficult, but not impossible)

Regarding rights - I'm not sure if you're saying that a) rights are something that really exist in an absolute sense, and some societies haven't figured that out, or b) the liberal concept of rights, and agreement on what those rights should be, results in a more stable (and perhaps more efficient) society. I'd buy the latter, but not the former.

Dave said at June 3, 2006 9:35 AM:

"who gets sanctioned to sub-human"

Apes perhaps? or according to the Spanish maybe NOT..
"Spain plans human rights for great apes"

I think this is where the problems come in, when you say everyone gets equal rights what happens in the future when humans have more genetic variations due to genetic engineering as Randall has mention previously. Some of 'us' might actually be sub-human, I saw a programme on Discovery where they were suggesting human colonisation of space and other planets could best by done by genetic engineering to make us better able to fit the eviroment. When humans become radically different will 'equal rights' be appropriate?
Personally I'd like to think so, but I can see things getting awkward.

Robert Silvetz said at June 3, 2006 12:14 PM:



"""Thus, the rights 'granted' are universal, even though they are not enjoyed equally by all people."""

THEN THEY ARE NOT UNIVERSAL AND NOT RIGHTS. The second half of the sentence contradicts the first half. Unless you meant that some people can't excersize certain rights, like a lobotomy case that has no concept of time cannot enter into a 30-yr mortgage contract. But he has the right to contract nonetheless. For which, of course, we appoint guardians to safeguard such rights and put the guy in a house! The source of authority is not the guardian's right to contract, but the lobotomy's patient right.

I have problems with the rest of the thinking as well. The state of humans has no bearing as to whether they are equal before the law. For some reason y'all are buying this postulate that your rationality is the source of your rights. It's not. Your existence as a conscious entity is the source of rights -- not your rationality, not your ability to respect rights -- all these are secondary to the fact you exist, that you are conscious, and that you need security as an absolute prerequisite to prosper. (And don't try to seperate 'conscious' from 'entity'. If you were in a coma, your rights are still in force because at one point you were a conscious entity entitled to every right.)

Does anyone think ones IQ matters one whit on whether or not the government has to respect rights and secure the person? Or provide retaliatory force if you are victim of a crime? This is why the Down's Syndrome man has the same exact rights in front of the judge that the IQ 180 genius has. Both are conscious, both are therefore entitled to respect, both are entitled to security. The pedophile has the same rights because of presumption of innocence. It is utterly irrelevant about his "disrespect for rights", because his disrespect means criminal behavior, which means he gets locked up for it. The problem with RP's formulation is that it leads to the Genetic Scarlet letter which walks right past all this and throws the guy in prison a la Minority Report. In one case the guy is guilty in the other innocent. And that's a real big problem. And don't think for a second that if we had the 100% predictive genetic profile, that we wouldn't use the 95% predictive genetic profile to throw the almost criminal in jail. This is not an improvement people.

As to the comment on happines:: The right is formulated as "pursuit of happiness" for the exact reasons outlined, individual uniqueness. But rights in general are not formulated on uniqueness -- they are formulated against universality and in a manner such that the rights of one do not imply a dminishment of anyone else. By granting such rights to each and every individual, we create security for all.

This was part of the achievement of the Enlightenment, of placing rights in their proper context (security) and anchoring them to reality (conscious entity, existence).

Robert Silvetz said at June 3, 2006 12:48 PM:


First off, everyone doesn't get equal rights, everyone has equal rights before the law right now.

Second, the formulation of rights is orthogonal to the state of humans. Can we internalize this folks? This is why y'all are having so much trouble.

Now, let's say I genetically engineer myself to look like ET... Do you see that my rights have not changed one whit?

Let's take something nice and thorny. I genetically engineer a bunch of women that are docile, submissive, polygamous, with a penchant to orgasm only when sex approaches the equivalent of the rape fantasy. Do you see that their rights are unchanged? Sex still must be consensual. The male can't beat them to a pulp. etc etc etc...

If I genetically engineer myself to be a chameleon, I still can't go around spying on people. See? And if I did, you get to punish me after you have proved it in a court of law with all the safeguards of my rights -- so that I can exonerate myself if I was innocent. Now wrap the Genetic Scarlet letter on me.... I have a compulsion to spy. You still have to treat me the same way. Why? To guaranteee proper due process, presumption of innocence, to avoid error, etc etc etc. See... the state of the human doesn't matter -- the fact that he is a conscious being that matters.

Dave said at June 3, 2006 1:54 PM:

But these rights you talk about are not Universal, they are mostly a construct of Western civilisation, many places around the world the 'rights' are not the same. These are not god given rights we invented them to suit our people and if the people were different maybe the rights would have been different also.

"Your existence as a conscious entity is the source of rights"

So you think Apes (and other animals) should also have human rights since they are conscious entities as well ?

Tom said at June 3, 2006 3:00 PM:

Robert - "Your existence as a conscious entity is the source of rights"

On what do you base this? If someone else thinks that being a rational being grants one rights, and another thinks that being a male human grants them rights, and another thinks that being a landowner grants them rights, and another thinks that being alive grants them rights, and another thinks that having a 120 IQ grants them rights, and another thinks that rocks have rights, how do we tell that any of these is correct, other than its conformance with some arbitrary philosophy?

Robert Silvetz said at June 3, 2006 5:13 PM:

Tom -- the post as written is moral relativism. You have the right to life no?-- tell me that's an arbitrary philosophical construct. You can derive every other right purely from that one if you had to. Do you think you have the right to defend yourself if you had to? Why? "It's my life!" -- tell me that's an arbitrary construct. Need I go on?

Apes -- Beats the hell out of me if they are conscious. Never worried about it til today. But if they are, along with dolphins, whales, they have rights.

There are two fundamental problems of human existence. Violence of man on man. And death. Biological immortality is the solution to the latter. It's doable, SENS is merely one marketing strategy of it. The former, of violence of man on man is addressed in only several ways so far:
1)Rights with .gov acting as guarantor (failing now after 250 odd years)
2)Arming every human so that immediate retaliatory violence is a universal deterrent (see concealed carry debate)
3)Depriving everyone of weapons and putting those in the hands of the elite (UN World Disarmament plan)
4)A la FuturePundit, we engineer violence out of the species with unknown and unintended consequences.

On existence of rights -- rights exist in the same way that the solution to the quadratic equation exists. Rights are the solution to the relationships of force in a society. The nature of man dictates the conditions, the rights are there to guarantee an optimal solution. The conclusion of the Enlightenment was that an optimal solution of setting man free from man had been found (more or less).

Can I go be with my girlfriend now?

crush41 said at June 3, 2006 8:11 PM:

Tom -- the post as written is moral relativism. You have the right to life no?

Obviously the universal application of absolute rights by absolute contingencies (as opposed to the binary standard of 'rights' or 'no rights' determined solely by evanescent 'consciousness') can do a better job of addressing this question than your formulation can. To humor, take it to the illogical extreme--we nab the murderous pederast before he commits the crime he has in the works. Wouldn't doing anything less, if we had the option, be denying the child his right to life?

Randall Parker said at June 4, 2006 8:46 AM:

Robert Silvetz,

Children do not have a right to contract. I learned this startling fact in a high school business law class. Parents can reverse sales that children make because the children do not have a right to enter into a contract implicit in making a sale.

Retarded people and old folks with feeble minds have court-appointed guardians appointed for them because they are considered to be mentally incapable of forming contracts. Again, these people do not have a right to contract. Are their rights violated by this arrangement?

The law already recognizes differing levels and extents of rights between people. It has done so for a very long time. The law recognises large numbers of variations of rights possession. Are you assumed competent to vote? Not if you've been convicted of a felony in most jurisdictions in the United States or are too young or not a citizen. Can you drive? Not if you are too young, have lousy sight, or can't pass a driving test, or have been pulled over for speeding too many times.

The law also allows people to be judged suitable or unsuitable for parole from prison based on likelihood of recidivism. In other words, some people are deemed incapable or disinclined to respect the rights of others and therefore they are kept locked up.

Do you object to all of the laws that create these differences in treatment of people and differences in rights between people?

Scientific and technological advances will inevitably provide us with greater technical means for measuring a person's competency to respect the rights of others and to conduct their own affairs. Suppose technological advances allow us to state with confidence that some 15 year old is more competent to drive or more competent to form opinions to vote or enter into contracts than some 19 year old. Should the 19 year old be allowed to drive and vote and form contracts while the 15 year old is denied these rights?

What people said hundreds of years ago about human rights was based on a rougher approximation about human nature than what we know today or that we will know in future decades. I think the law should incorporate new information and adjust to become more accurate in how it treats people differently than it has been in the past.

Doug said at June 4, 2006 10:07 AM:

"Why is it murder when someone else does it but not if the mother chooses to do it?"

Because Mother knows best?

Tom said at June 4, 2006 10:41 AM:

Robert - "You have the right to life no?"

I certainly don't want to be killed, but I don't think that's what you mean by right.

"tell me that's an arbitrary philosophical construct."

OK, it's an arbitrary philosophical construct.

"Do you think you have the right to defend yourself if you had to?"

I'd try to defend myself it I had to, but I don't think that's what you mean.

"On existence of rights -- rights exist in the same way that the solution to the quadratic equation exists. Rights are the solution to the relationships of force in a society. The nature of man dictates the conditions, the rights are there to guarantee an optimal solution."

You seem to be saying that rights are a set of rules on when force should not be permitted, in order to produce an optimal society. This would almost be an emperical claim. But I don't know how we'd determine whether a society was "optimal", and people would differ as to what "optimal" is - lots of people out there think that allowing women to show their faces isn't optimal, but I'd guess you'd say that not being forced to wear a hijab is a right. I'd also guess you don't think homosexuals or adulterers should be stoned to death.

You may be right that my post was from a morally relativistic point of view. But slapping a label on something doesn't make it wrong. (I don't consider myself a moral relativist, but that's irrelevant)

If you build a philosophy based on certain assumptions, you may be able to "prove" the existince of rights within that philosophy, but I doubt you can show that they really exist as anything other than a construct within that philosophy. Make a few of Ayn Rand's assumptions, and you can "prove" all kinds of things about how society should work. Of course, most people would look at you like you're some kind of wacko. Make a few of Marx's assumptions, and you can "prove" the opposite.

Robert Silvetz said at June 7, 2006 10:22 AM:

Tom -- Not true about proving. It takes less than a paragraph. Marx created Soviet Russia and gulags. (China, mostly a productive prison now, but undoubtedly a dictatorship. Just wait until the Chinese Dictators decide to seize the recent round of wealth. Basket case North Korea?) The Founding Fathers created the United States (Ayn merely codified 200 years later). The two are not equivalent. If you had to be Bayesian about it all and existence of rights, what does this experiment tell you? On optimal society, it's clear looking at history in broad strokes that a lopsided U-shaped curve exists. No government results in rampant thuggery. Some government, minimalist in nature, sets up for explosive freedom and growth (e.g. US thru Industrial Revolution upto 1920). Anything more than that makes everything move at a snail's pace and goes from annoying to oppressive to tyrannical. We are transitioning into oppression right now, a flavor of fascism-light. (I grew up in Italy, well-versed in the history of fascism as a result, and its smell is everywhere in the dictats from the Shrub and Congress with a complicit Judiciary.)

Randall -- Of course the child possesses the right to contract -- he cannot excersize the right. This is where the rub, the nexus of all this thread is. This is not a semantic difference. The guardianship's authority to make contracts for the child resides in the fact that the child possesses the right and can be delegated for excersize. This is what EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW means. For Pete's sake, see Blackstone's Commentaries. Y'all keep stressing the wrong thing, depriving people of their inalienable, granted rights a priori based on scientific goobledygok. If someone accuses you of a crime, you want all your rights acknowledged in equality before the law such that you can mount a defense -- not prejudiced by the Great Scientific/DNA/Whatever Scarlet letter.

quitacet said at June 7, 2006 6:34 PM:

equal rights is not a function of equal respect for rights. the appropriate "responsibility" in question is equal liability to the abrogation of rights ie equality before the law, which seems to be really the same thing. of course capacities for respect of others differ among people, like anything else: IQ, skin color, wealth, performance quotient, etc. a just society treats them, and demands from them, equally. if we do take your principle to adjust rights according to capacities, then we would adjust liability as well, and that worries me.

Randall Parker said at June 7, 2006 8:17 PM:

Robert Silvetz,

So then do you think 5 year olds should be given the legal ability to exercise their right to contract?

Robert Silvetz said at June 8, 2006 1:13 PM:


The question is somewhere between a non-sequiter and a misformulation given this thread's context.

It lumps posession and excersize and the two are seperate aspects of the same whole. It's two questions which are not synonymous.

Does the child possess the right to contract? Yes. As every other right.

Can the child excersize the right to contract? Not in most substantial matters relative to an adult.

In other wordes, the child doesn't miraculously get the right at 18. He has it from birth.

Posession operates in what brings equality before the law. Excersize involves competency and thus due process and thus the operation of law/courts. Thus a child can buy milk, trade baseball cards but cannot buy or sell real estate. Please note that buying milk is a contract... small tho it is.

Thus, the child possesses the right to contract and cannot excersize it in substantial matters. The source, justification and authority of appointing a guardian originates out of the child's possession of the right. The ability to excersize it, on behalf of the child originates out of the guardian having both the right and the ability to excersize it. That "on behalf of" has legal meaning -- it is the referent to the source of authority -- the posession of the right by the child. (If all guardians were denied you wouldn't call it a denial of the guardian's rights -- you would properly call it a denial of the child's rights -- which right... the right to contract.)

This was the brilliance of the Enlightenment which you call dogmatic. This concept of absolute unabridged rights for equality in the law was to rights what the zero and the equal sign became to equations in mathematics.

Randall Parker said at June 8, 2006 6:45 PM:


So then the 5 year old does not possess the ability or competency to exercise a right that the child possesses? What is it about the 5 year old that gives the child a right and yet not the competency to exercise it?

How about retarded kids? They will never develop the competency. Do they possess the right anyway?

If rights, in Rand's formulation, flowed from the capacity to reason when doesn't a reduced capacity to reason translate into a reduced amount of rights? If not, why not?

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