In the previous posting in this series we looked briefly at Aristotle's error in concluding that people all have different capacities to acquire and develop virtue. We then examined some of the conclusions that necessarily follow the belief that some people are less human than others, while still others are not human at all.
Being less human (or not human) means that someone does not have the full spectrum of natural rights (or any rights at all) that necessarily accompany the human condition. This is logical, for if you are not a full human being (that is, you do not exist completely as a human), how could you possibly be a full human person? If you are not human, of course you cannot have human rights, and are not, therefore, a person.
This is because only "persons" have rights, and only human beings can be human persons. A "person" is that which has rights, while a "thing" is the object of a right (e.g., a person owns, while a thing is owned). That which has the full spectrum of rights is a full person, while anything with less than the full spectrum is either not a full person, or not a person at all.
This raises the question as to whether it is possible to be a human being, and yet not a human person. This is where a philosophy of natural law comes into play. If, as we concluded in the series on the natural law, the law — and thus rights — is based on Nature (that is, what the human race has decided in all times and places constitutes the "good" as reflected from some absolute source), then the law is "built in" to each and every member of the human race.
Consequently, each and every human being has by his or her own nature, that is, by being itself, possession of the full spectrum of natural rights inherent in the mere fact of existence. That is, if we base the natural law on what we discern of human nature as a reflection of absolute good, the fact that someone is defined as a human being automatically means that someone is also a human person. With respect to humanity, being and personality (personhood) are inseparable. Natural rights are inalienable, including life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
If, however, we base the natural law on something other than what we can perceive of the absolute good, as is the case when we base the law on some religious revelation or, worse, reject the idea of natural law altogether and base human positive law on something like the "general will," then the concept of inalienable rights is abolished. Everything, as Heinrich Rommen noted in The Natural Law (51-52) becomes subject to change, clearing the way for pure moral relativism, even nihilism.
By abandoning the idea of natural law based on absolute good and discerned by reason, we open the door to such moral and legal sophistries as partial or non-personhood of that which is clearly human. Why this sort of thing is both appalling logic and bad law will be covered in the next posting in this series.