November 2014
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Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. Send your comments to me at I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. I have gotten into the habit of leaving out full names and email addresses; I have had too many people think better of something they said fifteen years ago. If you want your name and email included, let me know. Flames, however, will be published with full name and email address.

Dear Jonathan:

Regarding Natural Rights Don't Exist:

I think the piece is an overstatement. It starts:


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. We were taught in school that these words are beautiful, but today I regard them as dishonest or lazy, depending on whether or not Jefferson was aware of the problem with them.


The charge "dishonest" seems false. The charge "lazy" seems irrational.


His statement "We hold these truths to be self-evident" is a statement about the beliefs we hold to be true, and a statement that they are axioms. To say that his statement of what "we believe" is dishonest, without further evidence, seems to be roughly equivalent to saying that no one could have believed that nonsense. Many people today still believe that nonsense, or you would not have written the article.


Jefferson is trying to reason, to explain why the country is declaring its independence. To argue by reason requires axioms. To try to argue without axioms is not lazy; it is impossible. He starts the argument by stating his axioms. Very normal.


You might be pointing out that he does not act as though he believes those statements, and so much less can he believe that they are axiomatic. But it is also possible to claim that he does have those beliefs but does not acting in accord with them. A cynic might claim, justifiably, that when Jefferson said "all men are created equal', what he meant was "we are equal to you", thinking of the British, while not the other half of the equation, "you are equal to us", as regards everyone else. This seems to be more a common human failing than a lie.

The notion of the equality of all men is present in English history at least as far back as the "leveller" movement around the time of the first English Civil War, most notable in the Putney Debates.

I do realize that I probably have skipped over most of what you thought was most important, for which I apologize. I got thrown off track early.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I am a reader of your website and recently have found the article Democracy and Capitalism which was published in April 1996. I am asking for your permission to translate this article to Traditional Chinese and to share it on FaceBook. If permitted, I plan to translate the article a few paragraphs a time and I will include the original link on top of my translation every time.

I am not a professional translator but I am very interested in sharing your article to the people in Taiwan starting among my friends. It would be my honor if I have your permission to translate it.