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The inalienable human right from which other rights are derived

The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life arises in debates on issues of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, justifiable homicide, animal welfare and public health care. Various individuals who identify with pro-life views may disagree on which areas this principle applies, such as issues previously listed.

Featured Topics

  • Philosophy - The study of questions about existence, knowledge and ethics

Notable Topics

  • Children - Sons and daughters; young persons, infants, adolescents
  • Evolution - The process of gradual transformation of living organisms over time
  • Health - The general condition of the body; freedom from physical disease or pain
  • Learning - The process of acquiring knowledge or skills
  • Personal Responsibility - Accepting the consequences of one's actions
  • Praxeology - The study of purposeful human action
  • Psychology - The sudy of the mind and of human behavior
  • Self-ownership - The principle that each individual owns his or her body and life


Alternative Medicine Is Libertarian Medicine, by Butler Shaffer, 2 Dec 2006
Discusses several aspects of healthcare, including self-ownership, being responsible for our own care, decentralized information, the collapse of external authorities and the dehumanizing decisions resulting from institutionalized healthcare
[A]s politicians, judges, and governmental bureaucracies insist upon their authority to define when "life" both begins and ends ... there is a gnawing sense, among many people, that the nonmaterial qualities that give life its deeper, spiritual meaning, have become immaterial in an institutionalized world ... What is "life," and what is it not? Those who prattle about the "sanctity of life" often overlook the fact that "life" is self-directed activity; that all of politics is premised upon forcing life to go in directions it does not choose to go; and, therefore, that all of politics is anti-life.
The Death of Politics, by Karl Hess, Playboy, Mar 1969
Discusses libertarianism, contrasting it with both conservatism and modern liberalism, including specific policy differences
Libertarianism is the view that each man is the absolute owner of his life, to use and dispose of as he sees fit: that all man's social actions should be voluntary: and that respect for every other man's similar and equal ownership of life and, by extension, the property and fruits of that life, is the ethical basis of a humane and open society ... [T]he libertarian vision ... sees man as capable of moving on without the encumbering luggage of laws and politics that do not merely preserve man's right to his life but attempt, in addition, to tell him how to live it.
The Economics of Self-Ownership, by Michael S. Rozeff, Mises Daily, 6 Sep 2005
Explores ten economic arguments in justification of the self-ownership axiom
Making one's own choices is an essential procedure in learning how to create one's life. Human life is not simply a series of disconnected acts because we possess memory, foresight, reason, and many other qualities. One may engage in several series of decisions that build up skills, training, knowledge, wealth, personal relationships, health, family ... The basic economic aspects ... are that life involves complex decision processes that occur over time, that there are an infinite number of possible paths ..., that the processes are dynamic, and that all of this occurs under uncertainty.
Hard Cases Make Bad Law, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 23 Mar 2005
Discusses the attempt by members of the U.S. Congress to have U.S. federal courts intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, already decided by a Florida district court
[How] in the world can these congressional people honestly consider themselves to be "pro-life" when their position has been that their squeezing the life out of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with sanctions during the 1990s was "worth it" when they were trying to oust Saddam Hussein from power? ... doesn't that mean then that these people are "anti-life," albeit "pro-regime change," with respect to human beings in Iraq? ... how can they honestly consider themselves to be "pro-life" given their cavalier attitude toward the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis ... not one [of whom] had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks ...
Henry David Thoreau and "Civil Disobedience," Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Mar 2005
After some background and biographical material, describes the event (Thoreau's imprisonment) that led to writing "Civil Disobedience" and Thoreau's reaction to those who paid the tax on his behalf, his jailers, his neighbors and Ralph Waldo Emerson
[Thoreau] wrote in Walden,
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived ... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and ... if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.
Herbert Spencer's Theory of Causation, by George H. Smith, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981
Discusses Spencer's epistemology, his views on causation and how it affects social interactions, concluding with his ethical theory and concept of justice
Life, in general terms, is "the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations."[Spencer, Biology] An organism is continuously striving to adapt to its external environment. This requires that it be able to discriminate, if only on a rudimentary level, between different kinds of stimuli. If it is to survive, it must be able to react differently in different circumstances. As life forms became more complex, ... more sophisticated adaptive mechanisms evolved—from reflex actions and instincts ("compound reflex action") to memory and intelligence.
The Humanitarian with the Guillotine, by Isabel Paterson, Ideas on Liberty, Sep 1955
Reprinted from The God of the Machine (1943), chapter XX; analyzes the negative consequences of "humanitarians" (or professional philanthropists) and politicians actions to provide relief to the needy
The fatal divergence occurs in failing to recognize the norm of human life. Obviously there is a great deal of pain and distress incidental to existence. Poverty, illness, and accident are possibilities which may be reduced to a minimum, but cannot be altogether eliminated from the hazards mankind must encounter ... [M]ost adults are in fair health most of their lives, and are engaged in useful activity which brings them a livelihood. That is the norm and the natural order. Ills are marginal. They can be alleviated from the marginal surplus of production; otherwise nothing at all could be done.
Individual Rights or Civil Rights?, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Dec 1995
Contrasts the right not to be discriminated against with the right of freedom of association and concludes that one of them is invalid, also discussing private vs. government discrimination
[T]he right to free association comes logically from the right to life. From where comes the right not to be discriminated against? Such a right would forbid others from using certain criteria (race, etc.) in deciding with whom to deal. But that would violate the right to free association established above. The right not to be discriminated against necessarily violates a logical implication of the right to life. So it cannot itself be entailed by the right to life—or else contradictory "rights" would come from the same source ... The right not to be discriminated against ... is a pure invention.
Interview with David Kelley, by David Kelley, Raymie Stata, Full Context, Jun 1993
Topics discussed include: the Institute for Objectivist Studies, ties between IOS and classical liberal institutions, the Objectivism movement, the split with the Ayn Rand Institute, the marketplace of ideas, open questions in philosophy, and psychology
I think if you're going to ground your ethics in facts, you have to trace everything back to survival or non-survival, because that's where you face the fundamental alternative ... We want to live a full life, the one we can anticipate with our conceptual faculty. And therefore we want to pursue values that will secure our life over the full lifespan that's open to us biologically. Also, as you live your life you begin to incorporate certain values into your very conception of what your life is, so that you can reach a point where life might not be worth living to you if you lost your wife or you lost your career.
Interview with Nathaniel Branden, by Nathaniel Branden, Karen Reedstrom, Full Context, Sep 1996
In two parts; topics range from David Kelley, objectivisim, Ayn Rand, his memoir Judgment Day, Barbara Branden, Leonard Peikoff, homosexuality, self-esteem and more
You have to realize that when Rand spoke of "survival," she intended that as synonymous with "the life proper to Man." She meant a good deal more than merely not dying. She saw "survival" and "flourishing" as inseparable. The example I sometimes gave to make this point clear went like this. Imagine a man in an iron lung. He is not dead but clearly he is not living "the life proper to Man." Such a life would have to entail the full and proper use of his faculties ... So the debates I sometimes hear about between the "survivalists" and the "flourishers" have never made sense to me, not in an Objectivist context.
Libertarianism and Legal Paternalism [PDF], by John Hospers, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1980
Discusses laws "designed to protect people from themselves" arguing that in general such laws are illegitimate
Committing suicide is commonly a criminal offense. (You can be killed for doing it.) Even unsuccessful attempts are punishable. Yet if your life is your own, haven't you the right to take it whenever you wish? What right has the State to command you not to take it? None, we say. Yet the State orders its policemen, when a person tries to kill himself by jumping in the river, to do their best to rescue the would-be suicide provided they can do so without "substantial risk" to their own lives ... An impulsive suicide leap would have far-reaching and irreversible consequences, so isn't one justified in erring, if at all, on the side of caution?
Liberty Defined, by F. A. Harper, 4 Sep 1957
Speech to the Mont Pelerin Society; Harper first offers his definition of liberty, then explores "adulterated" definitions, its relation to morals, moral law and basic humans rights, ending with his hope for the cause of liberty
  1. What is the nature of man?
  2. What pathways are charted for man, as a consequence of his nature?
What, in other words, is the purpose of human life? ... Another derivative of biological research is to bring into focus the independent, unitary nature of the human organism. Persons are born alone as distinctly separate units ... They likewise die one at a time as separate units. All their acts in between are as separate units as well, even in their cooperative endeavors. An aggregation of any sort—even this meeting—fails to blend even two persons into one unit, so long as there is life in each.
Nonsense on the Inevitability of Democracy, by James Bovard, Freedom Daily, May 2006
Examines Francis Fukuyama's assertion about the "universalization of Western liberal democracy" and related pronouncements by George W. Bush
Fukuyama's article concluded with profound lamentations: "The end of history will be a very sad time.... In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself ... a powerful nostalgia ..." Fukuyama's assumption that life would have little or no meaning after the spread of democracy and freedom implies that political action, or political strife, is the primary source of life's meaning. This may be true in Washington, but happily, most people in the world do not take their life's mission from the government.
A Passion for Life, by Butler Shaffer, 1 Nov 2003
Discusses how political systems break the human spirit, how to live well one must live with passion, reflecting on the events of the Enlightment and the Industrial Revolution as inspiration and why personal liberty, not just economic freedom, is necessary
To live well means more than simply staying alive or being comfortable .... If life is to be experienced as our nature has prepared us, we must learn to live with passion; with a sense of focused, self-directed energy. The study of economics reminds us that life is a subjective process of learning, making choices, taking actions ... To live with passion is to live an internally directed life that exhibits a fiery, creative, exploring spirit. When we live this way ... we see through the cruel and brutish ways by which we cooperate with others in degrading and destroying our lives.
Related Topics: Children, George Orwell, Politics
Rationality and Irrationality; Subjectivism and Objectivity of Praxeological Research, by Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
Chapter 1, "Acting Man", section 4; argues that all human action is rational, i.e., the outcome of reasonable deliberation
The impulse to live, to preserve one's own life, and to take advantage of every opportunity of strengthening one's vital forces is a primal feature of life, present in every living being. However, to yield to this impulse is not—for man—an inevitable necessity. While all other animals are unconditionally driven by the impulse to preserve their own lives ... man has the power to master even these impulses ... He can give up his life when the conditions under which alone he could preserve it seem intolerable ... To live is for man the outcome of a choice, of a judgment of value.
Related Topic: Economics
The Right to Life Equals the Right to Possess Firearms, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Jun 1994
Discusses U.S. legislation or proposals to restrict, register, license or ban gun ownership, countering that these controls go against the basic right of self-defense, itself a corollary of the right to life
If you own your life, then you have the right to defend yourself against anyone who would deprive you of it ... And if you have the right of self-defense, it follows that you have the right to act (in ways, of course, that violate no other rights) to obtain means appropriate to that defense ... It is absurd to claim to uphold those rights while denying the right to own handguns. But that is not all. Any restriction on handgun ownership—including outlawing the carrying of handguns—represents the same violation of the right to life. That includes waiting periods, registration, right-to-carry licenses, and the rest.
The State of Humanity: Good and Getting Better, by Sheldon Richman, Julian Simon, 11 Nov 1996
Contrasts the pessimistic 1980 prediction, made in the Global 2000 Report to the President, about the probable state of the world in the year 2000 with the actual state in the mid-1990's.
The most important and amazing demographic fact — the greatest human achievement in history, in our view — is the decrease in the world's death rate (deaths per thousand). It took thousands of years to increase life expectancy at birth from just over 20 years to the high 20s. Then in just the past two centuries, the length of life one could expect for a newborn in the advanced countries jumped from less than 30 to perhaps 75 years. Starting in the 1950s, well after World War II, length of life in the poor countries leaped upward by perhaps 15 or even 20 years because of advances in agriculture, sanitation and medicine.
Related Topic: Economic Resources
Winning the Battle for Freedom and Prosperity, by John Mackey, Liberty, Jun 2006
Updated from speech given at FreedomFest 2004; after a brief background on himself, Mackey criticizes the freedom movement from a marketing and branding perspective and suggests a different approach by de-emphasizing some issues and prioritizing others
How many of you are familiar with Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs"? ... At the bottom ... are the physical needs, such as food, water, sex ... [At] the next level ...: safety needs ... Finally at the top ... is self-actualization ... : "Be all you can be." This means reaching your fullest potential as a human being. I believe that one of life's purposes is fundamentally to learn and grow. If we move up Maslow's hierarchy and don't stagnate at lower levels, life becomes an adventure of learning, growing, loving, and rejoicing. If we are not growing as human beings, then we are diminishing.
Zimmerman Case Is No Grounds for Gun Control, by Sheldon Richman, 16 Jul 2013
Analyzes and argues against those who, based on the outcome of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, push for bans of all private guns and for repealing "stand your ground" laws
Many states have passed these laws to clarify the law of self-defense. It is an old principle that one may use deadly force to defend one's life (or other innocent life) in one's own home. In other words, one has no "duty to retreat." Elsewhere, [if] you are threatened but can get away safely, the law requires you to do so ... The "stand your ground" principle clarifies things by holding that if one cannot retreat safely from a deadly or other serious threat when away from home, one may use deadly force to counter the threat. That's all it does. It does not permit one to shoot someone else casually with impunity.


The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations
    by Robert Nozick, 1989
Partial contents: Dying - Parents and Children - Creating - The Nature of God, The Nature of Faith - The Holiness of Everyday Life - Sexuality - Love's Bond - Emotions - Happiness - Focus - Being More Real - Selflessness - Stances - Value and Meaning
Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School--But Didn't, by Peter McWilliams, Apr 1990
Contents: Part One: Introduction To Life - Part Two: Advanced Tools For Eager Learners - Part Three: Master Teachers In Disguise - Part Four: Tools For Successful Doers - Part Five: To Have Joy And To Have It More Abundantly
Related Topic: Learning

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Right to life" as of 13 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.