Feser on Rothbard: Children and Rights

A few months back, I ventured onto a post by Edward Feser criticizing Rothbard as being a philosopher “incapable of giving a philosophically interesting argument for his claims.”

Feser states:

In the revised edition of For a New Liberty, the argument begins as follows:

“Since each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish, the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation. Consider, too, the consequences of denying each man the right to own his own person. There are then only two alternatives: either (1) a certain class of people, A, have the right to own another class, B; or (2) everyone has the right to own his own equal quotal share of everyone else. The first alternative implies that while Class A deserves the rights of being human, Class B is in reality subhuman and therefore deserves no such rights. But since they are indeed human beings, the first alternative contradicts itself in denying natural human rights to one set of humans. Moreover, as we shall see, allowing Class A to own Class B means that the former is allowed to exploit, and therefore to live parasitically, at the expense of the latter. But this parasitism itself violates the basic economic requirement for life: production and exchange.” (pp. 28-29)

Here are the [problems] that occur to me:

1. Even if it were true that “each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish” and that “the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation,” it just doesn’t follow that anyone has a right to self-ownership.

Furthermore, why should we grant in the first place that “each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish”? Children survive and flourish very well without choosing most of their means and ends.

The following is in no sense a reply to Feser, but just some thoughts generated while thinking about the subject of children. I have not come to a conclusion myself nor read any of the libertarian literature on this topic, but hopefully at some point I will.

The essence of a human being is rationality: having intellect and will.

(Assuming an A-T metaphysics) The intellect’s final cause is to determine what is good for a man. The will’s final cause is to choose what is good for man.

The way I think about this is that an individual cannot use his will unless he is free. The final cause of the will – to choose what is good for oneself is hampered unless man is allowed to choose means he finds suitable for his chosen ends. This implies a right from the initiation of force of another.

Feser’s example of children brings up interesting thoughts though. The child in such a situation isn’t choosing the right choice; his parents are making it for him. If the parents are simply recommending a choice of action to him, then this is a different situation. In the first, he is not allowed to use his will (if he has it). In the second, he is allowed to exercise his will.

Maybe Feser would argue that barring children from making certain decisions – such as a 6 year old leaving the house at 10:00 at night is obviously morally good for it. It could be seen as an absurdity if Rothbard’s argument for rights does not allow a parent to make such a decision for his child.

Another issue though, is the question of consent. At what age or point is a child truly rational? One could argue a child of 6 years of age is incapable of rationally making choices for himself. As such, a parent deciding something for his child could be much like a individual acting upon a squirrel. While the action of the parent or individual might be moral, the actions a child or squirrel take are amoral, because one is not yet capable of using his will and the other does not have a will to exert.

One issue that troubles me in claiming children cannot consent is where we draw the line. At what age or time can they consent? I don’t think the absence of a fine line delegitimizes any talk of children not having consent, but it does make it harder to think about.

Again, just some thoughts. If anyone else has thoughts on any of what I’ve mentioned, feel free to share.

Photo Credit: Sam Antonio Photography via Compfight cc

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Posted on October 29, 2013, in Ethics, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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