I have always been fascinated by the Bill of Rights, but as a self diagnosed cultural relativist, I object to the Constitution's emphasis on Natural law/rights over rights derived from the state. For example, the right to life implies the right to preservation of life, which through the second amendment implies the right to bear arms. Thus, if we believe in absolute, unchanging human rights, then the right to bear arms seems set in stone. However, the current philosophy of moral/cultural relativism shows that moral codes can be changing across cultures and over time, so the right to self defense/bear arms is not fundamental, but only reflective of the Founders. Should the Constitution's language be updated to reflect modern philosophical thought?

This is not a well researched thought. I am hoping that someone can help me clarify my position, and then refute/support it. Thanks!!

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    So you're a statist. But the Framers were trying to create a relatively limited central government. Hence the emphasis on rights derived from nature as opposed to the state. Commented Sep 15, 2013 at 21:14
  • The US constitution isn't very absolute. Technically, amendments can be repealed, even though currently it's not politically feasible to repeal the 2nd amendment. The constitution can also be unintuitively "interpreted" by courts so that it is effectively changed.
    – obelia
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 16:08
  • It is perhaps not appropriate, but what could "rights derived from the state" be? The right to pay taxes, maybe?
    – Ingo
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


The language is relatively unimportant. That is, the rights stated may be nominally "natural", but the document itself was a social contract of sorts. Moreover, it was constructed so as to be changeable later as part of that ongoing contract. The framers were well aware of these concerns.

A commentor added that the emphasis was on rights derived from nature, presumably like the right to own slaves. Plato thought that it was natural for people to serve the state (and to own slaves). The only right actually given by nature seems to be the right for the powerful to do what they want.. we have to take the other rights ourselves.

So, we have to be careful when we speak of Natural Law. For many enlightenment intellectuals, Natural Law was the law discovered through reason. The recognition by the framers that our reason may reach better conclusions implies that the eternal and immutable kind of natural law is not the same kind that they were referring to.

  • "For many enlightenment intellectuals, Natural Law was the law discovered through reason." great point! But why "was"? Isn't it anymore?
    – Ingo
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:32

There is a difference between having a right and having a liberty. Not to mention the issue of having one recognized by a Government.

In that sense, I doubt there is any compelling reason to update the Constitution of United States. Rather, a public discussion should take place about the liberties and the rights highlighted in that document and what do they actually mean in practice. People these days do not know even what is a republic and what is a democracy.

You might be interested in reading Difference between civil rights and civil liberties?

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