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MODEL OF NEUTRAL-INCLUSIVITY
BOOK OF INSTRUMENTS

 

8.5.3 

ALIENATING OR OVERRIDING A RIGHT OF PERSONHOOD

What are the ways of losing or weakening the right to personhood or any right of personhood? Not much imagination is needed to realize that it can be violated and depreciated. But can it be relinquished, forfeited, abrogated or overridden? And if so, only temporarily or also permanently; and only partially or also completely? These are all questions we can in this context of developing an instrumental and preliminary framework for our thought only try to answer conceptually and provisionally. If we conclude, for example, that the right to personhood or a right of personhood can be lost or weakened in a certain way, conceptually speaking, this does not yet mean that we maintain that it is or will be lost or weakened in that way. (Similarly, the possibility of the conceptualization of a supreme being with particular attributes and component parts which one being can have in combination and consistently does not yet prove the existence of such a supreme being.)

To start with, the right to personhood can never be abrogated, whether temporarily or permanently, whether partially or completely. Suspension, annulment, abridgment and complete abrogation are formal performances which are part of the procedures of a legal or similar, social institution. Personhood and the right to personhood exist prior to, and independent of, any such institution. Moreover, the possibility of abrogating one person's right to personhood by another person would make a mockery of this right as such an abrogation is a kind of interference itself. Within the bounds of an extrinsic right-duty constellation it is this very interference which is disallowed. There is another consideration: if A were allowed to abrogate B's right to personhood (and for this performance there are no legal or social rules), then B would be equally allowed to abrogate A's right to personhood. The 'safest' thing would be, then, to be first and abrogate everyone else's right to personhood completely and forever, which is just a ridiculous corollary. To determine who could abrogate whose right to personhood would require a system of rules founded on doctrinal principles governing at least two different persons. Within an extrinsic right-duty constellation such a system of rules is conceptually impossible. By adopting it, the right-duty constellation would become intrinsic, and we would merely be talking about another right (a legal right, for instance), not about the right to personhood or any right of personhood.

Also to 'alienate one's right to personhood', in the sense of relinquishing it, is a conceptual absurdity. Relinquishment presupposes personhood too, and if people have a right to personhood as people, then all people have it, even those who would like to be able to relinquish it. Of course, someone may choose to die, or to risk or sacrifice 'er life, and thus become a nonperson, but then 'e does exercise 'er right to personhood, not relinquish it. It is not a body which first possesses the right to personhood, and later not anymore; it is the person who had this body who continued to possess the right so long as 'e did exist as a person.

Whereas the total right to personhood cannot be relinquished, it is fully comprehensible that someone could relinquish a particular right of personhood, or waive exercise of such a right, because 'e would still keep the total right itself and remain a person. Forced, rather than voluntary, relinquishment is not possible since that amounts to a form of interference, but it may even not be possible to waive the right itself voluntarily. Waiving exercise of a right of personhood is certainly possible as every such right is discretionary, but so is waiving exercise of the right to personhood itself. This must then also be possible, conceptually speaking. For waiving exercise of the right means that the waiver is revocable at any moment, and this very possibility presupposes continued personhood as well.

As regards the other type of 'alienation', forfeiture, the forfeiture of the entire right to personhood cannot be conceived of either for much the same reasons. But again, one can conceive of forfeiture of a particular right of personhood, now in consequence of the agent's wrongdoing in terms of the extrinsic right-duty constellation itself. It must therefore be an interference with someone else's right to personhood. No other kind of wrongdoing can lead to the forfeiture of a right of personhood. (Furthermore there are good reasons to maintain that a right to free speech can only, but need not, be forfeited if someone interferes with another's right to free speech; that a right to life can only, but need not, be forfeited if someone murders someone else; and so on.) The question of what the rules of forfeiture are or could be exactly is not a conceptual issue anymore so long as only extrinsic wrongdoing is taken into consideration. It also remains to be seen whether the forfeiture of a right of personhood can ever be permanent.

If a right of personhood has been alienated, or if the exercise of such a right has been waived, there is yet no reason from a metadoctrinal point of view to do that which would have been interference if the person in question still had this right, or had not waived exercise of it. For example, if someone has forfeited 'er right to freedom of movement (assuming that this would really be possible), it yet does not mean that anybody ought to prevent this person from moving about freely (let alone that anybody ought to kill this person if 'e had forfeited 'er right to life). Even an activation in the absence of an active right and nonactivating duty requires a doctrinal principle which underlies an intrinsic, activating duty. The alienation of a right, or the waiver of its exercise, is by itself no reason whatsoever to do something; it is only the absence of a reason not to do something.

There are two ways in which a specific right of personhood could be overridden in a particular situation: firstly, it could be overruled by another, extrinsic right of personhood of (probably two or more) other people; and secondly, by an intrinsic duty. This latter possibility does conceptually exist too, for both the right of personhood and the intrinsic duty under consideration (or the respective claims involved) are a prima facie right and duty (or claims). It may be that in an actual situation not both the extrinsic right and the intrinsic duty can be actualized, and that a person temporarily loses an actual right (not the prima facie right) because of underweight of the right in the particular situation. This underweight of the right must plainly be distinguished from the belief in the underweight of the right. People may have dissimilar opinions about the question whether a particular right is overridden in a particular situation or not. They will certainly not believe that it can be overridden by an intrinsic right-duty constellation they do not recognize. And they always have the extrinsic right to believe this and to act accordingly (if, and so long as, they do not interfere with others). (Note the difference with abrogation: there the doctrinal deliberation would have had to precede and determine the abrogation; here the overriding occurs independently of, and possibly prior to, any doctrinal deliberation.)

Ideally speaking, a right of personhood ought never to be overruled, or only because of other people's equal right of personhood. An ideal normative doctrine counts every right in as (also) an intrinsic, active right justifiable on the basis of its own doctrinal principles. Paradoxically, from a metadoctrinal perspective, an ideal normative doctrine does not even need the separate recognition of rights of personhood in practise. In spite of this, even the adherents of such an ideal doctrine may have to live and coexist with the adherents of less enlightened, political and religious, ideologies. It is under such circumstances that they may have to appeal to the universal right to personhood when standing up for their own and other people's specific rights.


©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW
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