Can You Involuntarily Give Up Your Rights?
A thief doesn’t have the right to defend himself.
This is not a Q1 violation unless you think the right to self-defense is immutable or you think that theft is not sufficient justification for taking away the right to self-defense.
This is a Q2 violation if you would blame someone who mistook you for a thief for concluding that you have given up your right to defend yourself.
People generally believe that everyone has the moral right to defend themselves. Most people also believe that you lose the right to self-defense under certain circumstances.
For example, let’s look at a crime more heinous than theft and see if it results in the loss of rights. Imagine that Sylvester is standing on a bridge and Fred attacks him with a knife. Sylvester takes out a gun and shoots Fred. Because Sylvester was defending himself, the district attorney does not prosecute him for murder. Most people would say that this is fair.
Now imagine that the situation is slightly different. Sylvester is standing on the bridge as before, but this time he’s holding a little girl that he’s about to drop over the side to her death. Fred takes out a knife and attacks Sylvester to try to save the little girl, but Sylvester has a gun and shoots Fred. The district attorney charges Sylvester with two counts of attempted murder and with using a firearm during the commission of a crime. Sylvester goes to prison for twenty years, and most people would not feel that he had been wronged.
In both cases, Sylvester is being attacked by a man with a knife, but in one case he is (both legally and morally) allowed to defend himself and in the other case he is not. What would you say that the difference in the second example is? Is it that:
- Sylvester is attempting to trump the little girl’s right to live with his right to defend himself.
- Fred represents the little girl’s right to defend herself, and Sylvester cannot take away that right.
- By trying to kill the little girl, Sylvester gives up his right to defend himself.
- Sylvester’s intentions are bad while Fred’s intentions are good.
- Something else.
Now consider the following situations:
- You break into an old woman’s house and she confronts you with a gun. Do you have the right to defend yourself?
- You break into an old woman’s house and she attempts to call the police. Do you have the right to defend yourself?
- You break into an old woman’s house and she overpowers you and locks you in a closet. Has she immorally taken your right to liberty?
- You are trespassing through an old woman’s yard at night and she confronts you with a gun. Do you have the right to defend yourself?
- You are hired to do yard work behind a rental property. An old woman who lives there mistakes you for a thief and confronts you with a gun. Do you have the right to defend yourself?
- An old woman catches you in bed with her nineteen-year-old grandchild and threatens to shoot you. Do you have the right to defend yourself?
- You kill a family because you think it’ll be fun. Can the state punish you by taking away your right to live?
- You’re on a lifeboat and the other survivors discover that you’ve been hoarding food. Do you lose your right to an equal share of what remains?
- You’re on a lifeboat without food and try to kill another survivor. Can the other survivors choose to kill and eat you?
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.