Evidence for the existence of self evident rights?

Nov 2014
Is there any evidence at all for the existence of self evident rights? Vs. the existence of rights as a series of historical negotiations between different parties, and there being no objective universal standard for rights then? So what that the optimal amount of rights for a particular period may no longer apply for a different period?


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
Would their existence be an axiom on which we base our political philosophy?


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
Are you taking the phrase "self evident" from the Declaration of Independence? If yes, Jefferson did not say directly say that rights were self evident (although he did get to that idea eventually). He declared that certain truths were self-evident:
- all men are created equal
- that they have certain inaliable rights
- including life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness
- governments exist to secure the rights of their citizens
- governments that fail to secure their citizens' rights can be abolished
- prudence suggests that revolutions are risky
- sometimes revolutions must be risked despite prudence
- the colonies have reached the point where revolution is worth the risk

Most of these are not really rights. They are truths asserted by Jefferson and the other signers. The rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are pretty vague. John Locke had listed the rights of life, liberty, and property in 1689, so Jefferson did not feel the need to explain or justify ideas that had been around for more than eighty years by 1776. That's what Jefferson really meant by self-evident - that he didn't have to explain or justify something because it should have been obvious to everyone.

I'm not a big fan of natural rights. I believe rights are a matter of negotiation between citizens and their government. The closest I come to natural rights might be an acknowledgement that some rights have been in place for so long that they should be assumed rather than subject to renegotiation.
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