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Rights Theory

Rights Theory

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Rights Theory

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  1. Rights Theory (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  2. Overview • History of rights theory • Justifications of rights • Two concepts of rights: negative and positive • Fundamental Issues • Criticisms of rights theories • Conclusion (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  3. Rights:Changing Western History • Many of the great documents of the last two centuries have centered around the notion of rights. • The Bill of Rights • The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen • The United Nation Declaration of Human Rights (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  4. RightsChanging United States History • The notion of human rights has changed the course of history in the United States in the past fifty years. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  5. The Bill of Rights:A Fulcrum for Moral Change Many of the great movements of this century have centered around the notion of rights. • The Civil Rights Movement • Equal rights for women • Movements for the rights of indigenous peoples • Children’s rights • Gay rights • Rights for people with disabilities (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  6. Justifications for Rights There have been several ways in which theorists have tried to justify the notion of rights: • Self-evidence • Divine Foundation • Natural Law • Human Nature (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  7. Self-evidence • “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.” Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776 • Self-evident truths are conceptually “rock bottom,” there is nothing more fundamental in terms of which they can be justified. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  8. Divine Foundation • “We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for us and our Heirs for ever, That the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the freemen of our realm, for us and our Heirs for ever, these liberties underwritten, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of us and our Heirs for ever.” The Magna Carta, 1297 • A divine foundation for rights was necessary to trump the divine right of kings. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  9. Natural Law • Within the Christian tradition, fundamental human rights are seen as being guaranteed not only by God, but also by the order of nature. • Natural law in this context is a normative concept. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  10. Human Nature Arguments for natural rights that appeal to human nature usually involve the following steps: • Establish that some characteristic of human nature, such as the ability to make free choices, is a rights-conferring property, i.e., a property that is: • essential to human life; and • either morally good or morally neutral; • Establish that certain empirical conditions, such as the absence of physical constraints, are necessary for the existence or the exercise of that characteristic; • Conclude that people have a right to those empirical conditions. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  11. Two Concepts of Rights • The distinction depends on the obligation that is placed on those who must respect your rights. • Negative Rights: Rights to Noninterference • Obliges others not to interfere with your exercise of the right • Positive Rights: Rights to Well-Being • Obligates others to provide you with positive assistance in the exercise of that right (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  12. Negative Rights • Negative rights simply impose on others the duty not to interfere with your rights. • The right to life, construed as a negative right, obliges others not to kill you, but it does not obligate them to come to your aid if you are starving. • The right to free speech, construed as a negative right, obliges others not to interfere with your free speech, but it does not obligate anyone to provide you with a microphone. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  13. Traditional Negative Rights • Negative Rights: Rights to Noninterference • The Right to Liberty • The Right to Life • The Right to Property—especially important in the Lockean tradition • The Right to Equal Treatment (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  14. Negative Rights: Critique • Is a right something real if the conditions for exercising it are absent? • For example, if the right to health care is available only to those who can afford to pay, is it really a right for the poor? • Negative rights are modeled on the paradigm of private property. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  15. Positive Rights • Positive rights impose on others a specific obligation to do something to assist you in the exercise of your right • The right to life, construed as a positive right, obliges others to provide you with the basics necessary to sustain life if you are unable to provide these for yourself • The right to free speech, construed as a positive right, obligates others to provide you with the necessary conditions for your free speech--e.g., air time, newspaper space, etc. • Welfare rights are typically construed as positive rights. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  16. Positive Rights:Critique • Who is obligated to provide positive assistance? • People in general • Each of us individually • The state (government) • Libertarians maintain that rights are only negative. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  17. Fundamental Issues in Rights Theory • Who has rights? • Rights and duties • Rights and respect • Rights, Community, & Individualism • Rights and Close Relationships • The Limits of Rights Talk (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  18. Who has rights? • Possible rights holders: • Living human beings • Future generations • Animals • The natural world (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  19. Rights and Duties • Kant emphasizes that duty comes first, and rights are the correlate of duties • All statements about rights can thus be translated into statements about duties (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  20. Rights and Respect • Respecting humanity is respecting the rights of autonomous, rational beings • Hill: servility is a failing because a person does not respect his or her own rights. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  21. Nowheresville • Joel Feinberg, in “The Nature and Value of Rights,” asks us to image a world with no rights. • Rights entitle claiming. • Without rights, for Feinberg, there is no respect for persons. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  22. Rights, Community, and Individualism • Rights talk is often founded on an atomistic view of human beings • The Autonomous Rights-Holder • The Right to Liberty • The Right to Privacy • Contrast with non-Western societies such as China, where there is much less emphasis on the isolated individual. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  23. Rights and Close Relationships • Are rights the appropriate moral vehicle for adjudicating conflicts within close relationships? • See Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  24. “Nonsense on Stilts” • Jeremy Bentham and Alasdair MacIntyre both have argued that talk about rights is simply “Nonsense on stilts” • Rights are impressive-sounding fabrications that in fact correspond to nothing. (c) Lawrence M. Hinman

  25. Conclusion:A Pluralistic Approach to Rights • Rights establish the minimum standards for our interactions with other people, a moral “floor” below which we do not want to sink in our interactions with other people. • Rights do not tell the whole story of morality, especially in the area of personal relationships (c) Lawrence M. Hinman