What are our natural rights?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are at least two ways to answer this question.  First, we can say that it is asking what the definition of “natural rights” is.  Second, we can say that it is asking what specific rights we enjoy as part of our natural rights.

Natural rights can be defined as rights that we automatically have as human beings.  These are not rights that are given to us by the government under which we live.  Instead, they are rights that all humans have simply because they are human beings.  In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said that we are “endowed by our creator” with some rights.  These rights, which we have just because we are human, are our natural rights.

But what specific rights are these?  Perhaps the best enumeration of these rights comes from John Locke.  Locke said that human beings have the right to life, liberty, and property.  If we conceive of liberty properly, we can fit all of our natural rights into these three categories.  In the Declaration, Jefferson changed this slightly to say that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  However, I would argue that Locke’s list is better. Thus, we can say that our natural rights are the right to our life, to our liberty, and to our property.

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