Please turn on javascript in your browser to play chess.
Debates Forum

Debates Forum

  1. Subscriber no1marauder
    It's Nice to Be Nice
    24 Feb '11 22:36
    I found this very interesting and provocative article by Edwin S. Fruehwald of Hofstra Law School at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1440247 (it's a free download). The abstract states:

    Rights are an essential part of a modern legal system. This paper advocates rights based on a different kind of 'natural law,' rights which come not from God or externally from nature, but from human behavior - how our minds evolved. Under this approach, there are two kinds of truth: anthropocentric truth and non-anthropocentric truth. Non-anthropocentric truths are the laws of physical nature and mathematics; they are unassailable truths that 'are true regardless of what we happen to think about them.' Anthropocentric truths are 'truths that are true only because of the kinds of minds that we happen to have and the cultural worlds in which our minds developed.' This paper proposes that rights can be based on anthropocentric truths - that rights arose from human nature. In particular, anthropocentric rights developed to deal with specific adaptive problems in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. The fundamentals of rights derived from how our brains evolved with the details arising from how a particular culture reacted to how differing geography, ecology, and social conditions affected survival. Part II of this paper will introduce basic concepts of behavioral biology. It will first discuss neuro-cognitive universals, the universal grammar of morality, and universals in the law. Next, it will examine why cultural differences occur despite the existence of universal human behavioral traits, and then it will consider the selfish gene, a central characteristic of human behavior. Subsequently, it will show how society and the social contract evolved as a means for survival. Part III will present a biological basis for rights. It will first demonstrate the need for rights based on biological factors and introduce the sources of rights in human nature. Next, it will discuss the biological basis of four kinds of rights – property rights, fairness rights, liberty rights, and equal treatment rights. The final part will illustrate how biological rights exist in different cultures.


    I'm wading through the article itself and find it closely comports with my own views on the matter of Natural Rights theory. It's a rather lengthy read (73 pages) but if anybody else wants to take a look and discuss it, I'm be interested in doing so.

    BTW on p. 28 it mentions an experiment that was brought up in another thread (with the relevant citations) which show that individuals generally act "irrationally"i.e. against their own self-interest if they perceive others are being unfair:

    Evolutionary psychologists have used the “ultimatum game” to study fairness in
    humans.248 The ultimatum game is a two player game in which A is given money to be divided
    between A and B in any portion A wants. If B accepts the offer, the players split the money, but
    if B rejects the offer, the players get nothing. One might expect that A would keep a very large
    portion (say 90 for selfish reasons and B would accept a small portion (say 10 because at
    least he would get something. However, A generally offers an average of 40%, and B usually
    rejects offers below 30%. This shows that “[h]umans have built-in regulators, evolved over aeons
    of intense social interaction, that tells us not to be unfair to each other, lest today’s player A will
    become tomorrow’s player B.”249 In addition those who receive unfair offers (those in the
    position of B) will often reject those offers even if he loses something, too, due to B’s sense of
    fairness and the desire to punish those who are unfair.250
    Our sense of fair play appears in brain activity that neuroscientists have detected and
    tracked.251

    I think such an experiment has interesting implications for economics as well as Natural Law theory.
  2. Standard member sh76
    Civis Americanus Sum
    24 Feb '11 22:48
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I found this very interesting and provocative article by Edwin S. Fruehwald of Hofstra Law School at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1440247 (it's a free download). The abstract states:

    Rights are an essential part of a modern legal system. This paper advocates rights based on a different kind of 'natural law,' rights ...[text shortened]... experiment has interesting implications for economics as well as Natural Law theory.
    Interesting subject.

    “[h]umans have built-in regulators, evolved over aeons of intense social interaction, that tells us not to be unfair to each other, lest today’s player A will become tomorrow’s player B.”


    That sounds like self-interest on A's part. Otherwise, why is the "lest" necessary?

    will often reject those offers even if he loses something, too, due to B’s sense of fairness and the desire to punish those who are unfair.


    Spending to punish is rational in that is deters future bad behavior. To the extent that B is behaving irrationally, it seems to me that he is doing so out of spite and vindictiveness, not to defend a right of his that was violated.
  3. Subscriber no1marauder
    It's Nice to Be Nice
    24 Feb '11 22:56
    Originally posted by sh76
    Interesting subject.

    “[h]umans have built-in regulators, evolved over aeons of intense social interaction, that tells us not to be unfair to each other, lest today’s player A will become tomorrow’s player B.”


    That sounds like self-interest on A's part. Otherwise, why is the "lest" necessary?

    [quote]will often reject those offers even if ...[text shortened]... is doing so out of spite and vindictiveness, not to defend a right of his that was violated.
    Irrationally was placed in quotes; by standard economic definitions, a rational person would not turn down something of value when he is aware that the alternative was to get nothing. And since the experiment isn't likely to be repeated for the individual participants, I fail to see why it would matter to B to deter A's "bad behavior" suggesting that something more than mere "spite" or "vindictiveness" is at play (of course those terms are mere perjoratives).
  4. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    24 Feb '11 23:25
    The concept of natural rights is rhetorical device, nothing more.
  5. Subscriber no1marauder
    It's Nice to Be Nice
    24 Feb '11 23:26
    Originally posted by Palynka
    The concept of natural rights is rhetorical device, nothing more.
    Thanks for sharing.
  6. Subscriber no1marauder
    It's Nice to Be Nice
    24 Feb '11 23:28
    Originally posted by sh76
    Interesting subject.

    “[h]umans have built-in regulators, evolved over aeons of intense social interaction, that tells us not to be unfair to each other, lest today’s player A will become tomorrow’s player B.”


    That sounds like self-interest on A's part. Otherwise, why is the "lest" necessary?

    [quote]will often reject those offers even if ...[text shortened]... is doing so out of spite and vindictiveness, not to defend a right of his that was violated.
    Here's some interesting further research on the "Ultimatum Game" which addresses some of your points:

    It's still possible to interpret this behavior as being rational within a social context. A lot of human behavior, and that of other primates, seems to be focused on ensuring cooperative behavior within small groups. The rejection of offers within the Ultimatum Game can be viewed as a form of punishment for unfair behavior. In that light, the rejection may make sense to the degree that the immediate loss of money provides a long-term incentive for fair and cooperative behavior within a group. Rational economic behavior is restored.

    The new paper pretty much blows that explanation out of the water by testing individuals using a couple of variations of the Ultimatum Game. In the first, which the authors term "the Impunity Game," the person making the offer gets their share of the cash regardless of whether the offer is accepted or not. In this game, the only consequence is the potential for guilt caused by the knowledge that an offer was rejected. Rejection rates do drop, but they remain substantial—offers of an 80/20 split got rejected over 40 percent of the time (down from around 70 percent) despite the lack of real economic consequences.

    To really nail things down, the authors conducted tests of a Private Impunity Game, in which the person who made the offer wasn't even informed of whether it was rejected or not—they simply walked away with their share of the cash. Here, even the nebulous hope that the person making the offer would feel pangs of guilt from its rejection was removed. Rejection rates were essentially unchanged. People keep rejecting offers they perceived as unfair, even if, like the proverbial tree in the forest, no one will hear their rejection.

    In another hint of the nature of this response, the authors describe how a similar study was performed in which the Impunity Game was explained to participants as a series of if/then statements: "if A chooses X and B chooses Y, then A receives $i and B receives $j." Here, when subjects are forced to reason through the conditions to figure out that their rejections didn't cause any sort of financial punishment on the ones making the offer, rates or rejection were about the same as they are in the Ultimatum Game. This suggests that people can't even be bothered to perform a rational analysis when money is on the line, much less engage in rational actions.

    The lack of objective analysis is also demonstrated by a number of results that indicate that changes in the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters—testosterone, serotonin, and oxytocin, for example—can all skew the statistics by changing the average response to unfair offers.

    Given the fact there's essentially no way to provide a rational actor gloss to these results, the authors attempt to explain it through an emotional response that sounds much like a gorilla's chest beating. Our emotions commit us to these sorts of displays despite their irrational nature, and force us to follow through on them often enough to make sure everyone knows it's not an idle threat. Nine times out of 10, the chest beating may just be a display, but is anyone willing to risk the chance that a given instance will turn out to be the exception?

    The problem with this explanation is that it adds a layer of complexity—a mechanism that ensures a degree of commitment to an emotional response—on top of what's essentially a simple situation: people act without thinking. Earlier this year, I attended a discussion entitled "Evolution and the Ethical Brain" in which researchers argued that our ethical decision making (such as how to respond to unfair financial offers) is performed by a system that operates in much the same way as those that respond to sensory input: they make snap judgments that allow us to respond quickly and get on with things. The more elaborate ethical debates that we engage in are largely attempts at post-hoc rationalizations of our earlier decisions.

    Within this perspective, the snap judgment is that an offer is unfair. Sometimes, we can engage the post-hoc rationalization, in this case involving the economics of the situation, and override our ethical calculations. But, in a substantial fraction of the cases, we never get the chance, as we act on our snap decisions before that process can occur.

    http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/06/irrational-markets-people-reject-free-money-out-of-anger.ars
  7. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    24 Feb '11 23:32 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    Thanks for sharing.
    Glad to be of assistance.
  8. Subscriber Sleepyguy
    Reepy Rastardly Guy
    24 Feb '11 23:49 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I found this very interesting and provocative article by Edwin S. Fruehwald of Hofstra Law School at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1440247 (it's a free download)
    Very interesting. As an aside, it reminds me of Bertrand Russell's introduction to his A History of Western Philosophy, where he talks about how philosophy occupies the realm between theology and science. From what you've posted here this looks to be a good effort at pushing natural law theory out of the philosophical realm and more toward the scientific end of the spectrum.

    Edit: Here's the part of that intro I was thinking of ...

    Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge-so I should contend-belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy. Almost all of the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so convincing as they did in former centuries. Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at one? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble, in what doesn’t it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely the ultimate refinement of folly? To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory. Theologies have professed to give answers, all too definite; but their very definiteness causes modern minds to view them with suspicion. The studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.

    Why, then, you may ask, waste time on such insoluble problem? To this one may answer as a historian, or as an individual facing the terror of cosmic loneliness.
    The answer of the historian, in so far as I am capable of giving it, will appear in the course of this work. Ever since men became capable of free speculation, their actions, in innumerable important respects, have depended upon their theories as to the world and human life, as to what is good and what is evil. This is as true in the present day as at any former time. To understand an age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers. There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men’s lives do much to determine their philosophy, but, conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances. This interaction throughout the centuries will be the topic of the following pages.

    There is also, however a more personal answer. Science tells us what we know, but what we know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales. It is not good either to forget the questions that philosophy asks, or to persuade ourselves that we have found indubitable answers to them. To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.
  9. 25 Feb '11 00:05
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I found this very interesting and provocative article by Edwin S. Fruehwald of Hofstra Law School at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1440247 (it's a free download). The abstract states:

    Rights are an essential part of a modern legal system. This paper advocates rights based on a different kind of 'natural law,' rights ...[text shortened]... experiment has interesting implications for economics as well as Natural Law theory.
    Maybe you can clarify if I get the gist of it.

    It seems that he identifies sources of rights, the sources being "anthropocentric truths" that correspond to and support the recognition of property rights, fairness rights, liberty rights, and equal treatment rights. The evolutionary pressure to "develop" these rights comes about when humans enter into groups that deal with the issues he mentions. These adaptation take expression as rights in the legal systems we set up.

    It seems the "natural" aspect of it is not so much natural versus supernatural, but natural meaning our nature is formed by the adaptations that occur in us as we deal with such issues. I make this distinction because if he is being a scientist here he is not presenting this as an argument against a theistic source and is not so saying the rights are in us simply "because we are human," instead, they come about as the legal expression of adaptations that have occurred in our evolution as animals. They could occur in other species too, say if a feline-based species evolved like we have and started communicating about property, fairness, liberty and equal treatment.
  10. Subscriber no1marauder
    It's Nice to Be Nice
    25 Feb '11 00:19 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by JS357
    Maybe you can clarify if I get the gist of it.

    It seems that he identifies sources of rights, the sources being "anthropocentric truths" that correspond to and support the recognition of property rights, fairness rights, liberty rights, and equal treatment rights. The evolutionary pressure to "develop" these rights comes about when humans enter into groups we have and started communicating about property, fairness, liberty and equal treatment.
    I think I'll digest the article tonight and talk more specifics tomorrow. It is 45 pages long (28 pages of Footnotes; standard Law Review proportions) and has a lot of material the specifics of which I'm not familiar with.

    EDIT: My bad; it's not a Law Review article but a Legal Studies Research Paper.
  11. 25 Feb '11 11:08
    OK - this might actually move this perennial RHP debate on from its usual parameters - it's 45 pages long, however - I will read it when I have 45 pages of reading time, which is to say, not today. Sounds interesting, though.
  12. Subscriber Wajoma
    Die Cheeseburger
    25 Feb '11 11:38 / 2 edits
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    I found this very interesting and provocative article by Edwin S. Fruehwald of Hofstra Law School at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1440247 (it's a free download). The abstract states:

    Rights are an essential part of a modern legal system. This paper advocates rights based on a different kind of 'natural law,' rights experiment has interesting implications for economics as well as Natural Law theory.
    What a stupid game, no1der it appeals to no1. Money just appearing from nowhere, surely it belongs to whoever earnt it, no questions asked eh. Reminds me of another game, a group of people sit around a pot, every ten minutes a sum of money is added to the pot, the first person that grabs it keeps the lot. The data is crunched, statisticians cream their panties over the numbers, KN starts chanting 'game theory, game theory, game theory, game theory, game theory,'(as if that answers everything), no1 tries to twist it into a scheme to explain why you should no longer own your own life and how he knows best what's good for you.

    The most plausible explanation for the scenario portrayed in the game is that person A and B are petty bureaurats 'competeing' for money flowing uncontrolably off the gummint printing press. (Saudi Arabia) Another unconvincing explanation that might make the 'game' legit is that there is some demented old loon that doesn't know what money stands for, or has forgotten and is now giving the money away voluntary just so as to toy with people. If we happened to sit opposite each other in that game D and you were given the money to dole out, hand on my heart you would be welcome to keep the lot.

    Who does the money belong to in the first place?
    Why is it being given away in this manner? (Hopefully there's a better answer than: "we're just plucking wit ya" )

    So you're going to 'digest' the paper eh, make sure you take a pint of pepto bismol along to keep you company.
  13. 25 Feb '11 17:24
    Originally posted by no1marauder
    Here's some interesting further research on the "Ultimatum Game" which addresses some of your points:

    It's still possible to interpret this behavior as being rational within a social context. A lot of human behavior, and that of other primates, seems to be focused on ensuring cooperative behavior within small groups. The rejection of of ...[text shortened]... ience/news/2009/06/irrational-markets-people-reject-free-money-out-of-anger.ars
    What I have difficulty accepting in all these discussions of variations on money-sharing experiments, is that acting on the motivation to maximize one's monetary share is defined as rational, and acting on other motivations is defined as irrational. I don't know if the investigators are doing this, or if it's only being done in the popularizations of such studies. But if the subject gives greater weight to some other value, then isn't the rational decision the one that most satisfies that value? What is it about money that makes its pursuit rational, whereas, pursuing, say, self-respect, is not? Has money replaced Maslow's hierarchy of needs?
  14. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    25 Feb '11 17:29
    Originally posted by JS357
    What I have difficulty accepting in all these discussions of variations on money-sharing experiments, is that acting on the motivation to maximize one's monetary share is defined as rational, and acting on other motivations is defined as irrational. I don't know if the investigators are doing this, or if it's only being done in the popularizations of such stud ...[text shortened]... ereas, pursuing, say, self-respect, is not? Has money replaced Maslow's hierarchy of needs?
    They're not doing it, though, are they?

    Nice rant, though.
  15. 25 Feb '11 17:50
    Natural Law is a bunch of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, of course, but the experiment is interesting nonetheless.