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Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

In this video, Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson talks to Sal about  the Declaration of Independence. Created by Sal Khan and Aspen Institute.

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  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user GodIsREAL
    Why did he say that taking away someone's property was a "right" around . How could this be a "right"? It seems like it would be a "right" to keep property owned, but taking property, can it seriously be considered a "right"?
    (10 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user memes
    I guess Thomas Jefferson isn`t good as I thought. He should at least follow his own words!
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Siddhanth Chawla
    If Right to live is an unalienable right, if one has full authority of his/her life, doesn't that imply that right to take one's live is also 'unalienable' ?
    Can that be used as a valid argument in support of euthanasia?
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops seed style avatar for user Mark Bauman
      As an American, the term "unalienable rights" has meaning and implications that can substantially differ from other countries and legal systems. An unalienable right to die is not recognized under mainstream American jurisprudence and cannot support euthanasia (defined here as one person assisting another in their voluntary desire to end their own life in a peaceful manner).* Unalienable rights are inherent and cannot be voluntarily given or taken away. The government may take your life, liberty, and property against your will with due process, notice of the action against you and an opportunity to be heard before a neutral magistrate. Under the U.S. Constitution, there is no right to assisted death under the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997). The Court reasoned that liberty interests not "deeply rooted in the nation's history" do not qualify as being a protected liberty interest. Also, the practice was punished in past centuries and subject to harsh penalties under English common law, which our system is based on. This shows no support for the notion that euthanasia is constitutional.

      Oregon passed a ballot referendum that allowed physician assisted suicide in limited cases. ORS 127.800-995 (search that citation to read the law). It basically allows a physician to prescribe a whole bunch of drugs, give you the full bottle, then look away while you overdose. If the law were challenged, it may be struck down as unconstitutional. But our current Supreme Court is very different from the Glucksberg Court and is apt to mandate it nationwide. All this doesn't stop you from killing yourself. Where there's a will, there's a way.

      *There have been cases where (usually) a family member would perform a mercy killing on a terminally ill relative. This often involved shooting, stabbing, or asphyxiating the relative. I can't think of one where the killer was acquitted (found not guilty).
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Katie Callaway
    Why is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness an important part of the Declaration of Independence?
    (2 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user DJ
    I know for a fact that most of the colonist were protestant and the French were officially Roman Catholic prior to the revolution. Would it be possible that they don't explicitly state God under any specific religion if the D.O.I because they wanted support from the French monarch?
    (2 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user CatFantasy
      Yes, that is possible. One of the main revisers of the Declaration of Independence was Benjamin Franklin, a politician that not only was good at wording words correctly but also made the trip to France to ask for the Treaty of Alliance. But that was after the Declaration of Independence was written, but Ben Franklin must have known what he was doing.
      (1 vote)
  • aqualine seed style avatar for user clyde myles
    where white people slaves
    (1 vote)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Daniel Wang
      White slavery technically did not exist in the Colonies. However, there was a system known as the indentured servant system, in which people served others for a certain amount of time to pay off their trip (this system was used by poor immigrants, or frugal people). Many masters took advantage of technicalities, and lengthened servitude times, treated them just about as bad as slaves, etc. In any case, less than half of these indentured servants survived to see their freedom.
      (2 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user ruizomar232
    why did they change it from sacred to self evident
    (1 vote)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user laura bazile
    who wrote the declaration of the independence
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Brenda Nielsen
    Regarding our rights being endowed by our creator, I feel that a crucial point has been overlooked. The implied question here is: where do our rights come from? Are the only rights that we possess are those that have been granted the rights by a government or a king vs does the king or government only have the rights that we grant them or him or it?This fundamental, revolutionary concept is the difference between people living subject to the king and government, or as citizens naturally in possession of their rights? This discussion continues to this day in the United States and around the world. The Declaration's answer is that our Creator, not a temporal authority, endows us with us those rights, and that therefore no temporal authority can presume to have any rights other than those that we specifically secede to that authority. In all cases, the Divine Right which was formerly possessed by the Kings has been transferred and now is the sole and natural possession of the people, the citizens . Since no no temporal power has authority over the creator, by extension, the king and his/our government can only possess those rights which we free people allow and endow. This means the power originates "bottom up"rather than "top down", so that instead of our possessing only those rights granted by our government, it is our government that only possesses those rights granted by us, the people. Or as former president Lincoln so ably said, "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

    This concept of rules and laws arising from the people people themselves, is basic to American mentality. I might add is not always understood by those living outside of the United States comma especially those living in countries where the government or a king decides the rules and the role of the people is to comply with those rules.
    (1 vote)
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  • hopper cool style avatar for user iHATEMATH.jpg
    Where did deists originate from? was it from England, from other paces? Or were they formed in the 13 Colonies?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

Man 1: "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." It's this amazing second sentence of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson and Adams and Franklin wrote as part of a committee and we were looking at that sentence. Let's go on to look at that phrase, "they are endowed "by their Creator." It's interesting, they don't really mention Jesus Christ and not even God. They talk about the laws of nature and of nature's god and a creator. These are deists, people who believe in the notion that there's some grand creator of the universe, but they don't get into the specifics of any particular religious dogma. The other thing is they're balancing where do our rights come from? In an earlier draft, and we'll talk about how they edit the earlier drafts in a later video, but in an earlier draft it just says they're endowed with certain unalienable rights and you see that John Adams, probably, is the one who wants to insert the phrase "their Creator" and that was because they started the sentence with "We hold these truths to be sacred," but they changed that to "self-evident." They're trying to say to what extent is it rationality that gives us these rights, to what extent are these rights endowed by God and I think what they finally come down to is that we all had a creator and that creator made us all. So, to a certain sync, we're created equal. Our creator must love us all, we are all created by the same creator, therefore there's a certain equality that we have and in creating us, he gave us certain unalienable rights. Man 2: Unalienable just means can't be taken away. It can't be separated. Man 1: It can't be separated. You can't take these rights away. The king can't take these rights away. In other words, it's not as if we could give up these rights and in particular, they are talking about this theory of government that John Locke had, who was one of the philosophers that they read, an English philosopher of that period, who said that when you created government or there is a government, you give up some of your rights. For example, if we all agree that we're part of a government, we may give up our right to take somebody else's property or whatever it may be. These are rights you can give up, but there are certain rights that are unalienable, that you just can't give up or the king can't take it away. Once again, you've got to look at Thomas Jefferson, who actually owned slaves at this point and he's saying among those unalienable rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There's this inherent conflict still, between rights, such as liberty, that you can't take away from a person and yet, Jefferson's writing this phrase when he owns slaves. The phrase "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is also something that derives from John Locke and these philosophers of the Enlightenment that were writing in England. At one point, John Locke uses the phrase "Life, Liberty, "and the pursuit of property," because Locke believed that owning property was an important right you had and the government couldn't just take your property away. However, you can see that they change it to a more elevated phrase (laughter) that we each get to pursue our own notion of what we want to do in our lives, our happiness. I don't think they just mean happiness like joy and frivolity. I think they mean pursuit of meaning in life, what gives our life meaning and these are the unalienable rights. Then they go on and this gets to what's called the contract notion of government, is that why do we have governments? Whether it's John Locke or the other philosophers we've talked about, they say the reason we have government is that we all had these rights, but we decided to get together. We instituted governments. Governments are instituted and the reason those governments have their power is because of the consent of the governed. It's like if you and I and 20 people got together and formed a group and we said, "We're going to form "a group, we'll give up some of our rights, "because the group itself will have certain powers, "but we're consenting to do that." It's not because of the divine right of kings. It's the consent of the governed. The consent of the people says we will institute a government amongst ourselves and that's not to take away our rights, that's to secure our rights. Man 2: Right. I might ... The 20 of us might give up our right to enforce things, police each other, to the government, so that we could have our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. We're more likely to have it secured. Man 1: Once you get to that theory, you have to say, "What are the type of rights we would give up?" Such as, maybe, the right to decide the traffic laws or the policing of the thing, or how property contracts are made, but there are certain things that, no matter what you did, if you were instituting a government among men, you would not give up the right to life, you would not give up the right to liberty, and you would not say, "I'm going to give up "my right to pursue my own life ends, "my own happiness." You would say, "We want to secure those rights. "We're not going to give those up to government."