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Human Rights

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  1. Human Rights Chapter 7

  2. Human Rights • What if a doctor found out that someone had a fatal heart condition and knows people that could use the organs to stay alive? She could inject some poison, the patient would never know and several people would be able to live long lives. • It sounds like an argument that a utilitarian might approve of. Even a rule utilitarian would have a hard time getting around such an argument because a rule could be qualified in such a way that would not show why an act like this should not be committed. • Why shouldn’t the doctor kill the ill patient? Most people would say because the patient had a right to his/her life.

  3. Human Rights • Rights have no obvious connection with utility. Suppose you save money for the new car, house, or vacation and someone tells you that you must give the money to the homeless. You might say, “ I earned it. I have a right to do with it what I want.”

  4. The Nature of Rights • What is a right? • What is an entitlement? • What is a person entitled to and why? • A right is more than a claim, it is a justified claim. But can someone have a right without making a claim? • A right may be a certain amount of moral space on which others may not trespass. • If you have a right, then others have an obligation. • What about kings or babies? • A right is not merely a privilege. See page 193 • People such as Thomas Jefferson, and John Locke believed that there are God-given rights. • Some people believe that rights go with sentience – the capacity to suffer.

  5. The Nature of Rights • Some people think that humans have intrinsic worth. • Still another account of rights is based on rationality. Aristotle believed that what made humans distinct from everything else was their rationality. Men are rational animals.


  6. The Right to Life: Suicide • Some people think that humans have intrinsic worth. • Still another account of rights is based on rationality. Aristotle believed that what made humans distinct from everything else was their rationality. Men are rational animals.

  7. The Right to Life: Suicide • Voluntary consent is an essential feature of rights. • Suicide is defined as the intentional taking of one’s own life. • Arguments against the morality of suicide: • The irrationality of suicide. What about Socrates? • Slippery slope argument • The religious argument • It hurts the people that are left behind • Arguments for the morality of suicide: • A person has a right over his or her own body and own life. She is a self. She is the only one that feels the pain. • Please see page 196

  8. The Right to Life: Mercy Killing • The word euthanasia comes from the Greek and originally meant “a good death.” • Should assisted suicide be legal? • If assisted suicide was not illegal, then should there be safeguards? • Should there be a cooling-off period? • What about mercy killing? • Could greedy relatives speed up your death? • If a patient knew this was going on, couldn’t it undermine patient confidence? • Passive euthanasia – letting a person die. • Active euthanasia – is actually doing something that kills the person. • Can passive euthanasia actually be more cruel than active euthanasia?

  9. The Right to Life: Mercy Killing • Arguments against allowing someone to die: • Abandonment of patients • The possibility of finding cures • Religious reasons • Some arguments for allowing someone to die: • Individual rights • End suffering • The right to die with dignity

  10. Abortion • What are the rights of a mother’s choice vs. the rights of a fetus? • According to Hospers, abortion was common in classical Greece and Rome, as it was in most pre-civilized societies. The Old Testament is full of prohibitions on dress and diet, but it never mentions abortion. • Roe vs. Wade held that abortion is homicide only after the fetus is “formed,” in the third trimester of pregnancy. • Two extreme views: • Pro-choice: The final decision on whether to abort is the mother’s, and whatever she decides is final. It’s her body, and it’s for her to say what she will do with it. • Pro-life: Abortion is always wrong because from the moment of conception there is another person inside the mother who has as much right to life as she has; and to extinguish that life is murder. The abortion doctor is as much a murderer as the hired killer.

  11. Abortion • Many people do not hold extreme positions. They are often willing to modify their position: • People that are generally pro-life may make exceptions: • When the life of the mother is endangered. • When the pregnancy is the result of rape. • When it is the result of incest • When the child would have been born with a very serious hereditary disease. • There is controversy about when a fetus becomes a human being. How are we going to define a human being? • Does life start: • At conception? • When a mother feels the baby move inside her? • When brain waves first occur? • When the fetus can survive outside of the womb? • Judy Jarvis Thomson’s article

  12. Freedom of Expression • U.S. Constitution: First Amendment • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. • John Stuart Mill defended liberty in his famous essay On Liberty. He said, suppose that the view that government is trying to suppress is true: • The authorities, in denying this, are assuming that they are infallible. If they don’t fear the opposing view, why would they want to suppress it? Why not let it be discussed publicly so that people can determine for themselves whether those in authority or right? • It is only be testing a view in the marketplace of ideas that we can come to know whether it is true. If it is suppressed, without a free and open discussion and the presentation of contrary evidence, we can never know whether it is true; we can only assume it. • Almost every important idea has some time been suppressed by those in power. Such suppressions have often set back human progress for centuries and kept all but the most courageous from expressing their ideas at all. This is a tremendous loss to the human race and a shameful way to treat humankind’s most original and creative minds. • Some say that certain views, such as religious ones, should be instilled in everyone, whether known to be true or not, for the sake of utility, “to hold together the moral fabric of society.” But, said Mill, the utility of an opinion is itself a matter of opinion and just as subject to dispute as is the opinion itself.

  13. Freedom of Expression • What if the opinion the authorities are suppressing is false? • They cannot know it to be false unless they submit it to open discussion. • John Stuart Mill tries to show why freedom of speech has long-term utility. • “If all mankind minus one,” he wrote, “were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” • Are there occasions when suppressing a view (even a true one) might increase utility?

  14. Freedom of Expression • Sedition: Sedition: • Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state. • Insurrection; rebellion. Most people believe that those who publicly advocate the overthrow of the government should be stopped. However, the government is often selective in the enforcement of such laws. In times of war sedition laws are much more repressive. During World War I: “It became criminal to advocate heavier taxation instead of bond issues, to state that conscription was unconstitutional through the Supreme Court had not yet held it valid, to say the sinking of merchant ships was legal, to urge that a referendum should have preceded our declaration of war, to say that war was contrary to the teachings of Christ.” Have the sedition laws become more repressive during the “war on terror?”

  15. Freedom of Expression • Incitement to Riot: • Some speech is construed as being action rather than speech. John Stuart Mill gave an example. A union foreman approaches a crown of angry workers in front of the factory and shouts “Burn the place down!” Should she be arrested, although she has only said a could of words? • Defamation • communication to third parties of false statements about a person that injure the reputation of or deter others from associating with that person. • Obscenity • What is obscene, lewd, and so forth? Ulysses was considered obscene, but most people today would not consider it to be obscene. Is obscenity in the eye of the beholder? • Fraud • When is it illegal to make false statements?

  16. Property Rights • Your property is what belongs to you. • There are some things that ownership does not entitle you to do. You can’t lure people in from the streets, kill them, and bury their bodies in the basement. You can violate a right to life. • If a stream runs through your land, you may not pollute it and thereby deprive your neighbor of potable water. • May you build a fence around your property and electrify it? May you raise pigs in your backyard in the city? May you raise poisonous snakes if you are very careful that they don’t get out? • Right of eminent domain.

  17. Property Rights • Initial Acquisition of Property • John Locke’s theory. • The Lockean proviso says we have the right of acquisition only if we leave "enough and as good" for others. • Nozick: tomato juice in the ocean • David Schmitz’ argument. (see pages 213-214) • Transfer of Property • How is property justly acquired? • Reparations – how much do you pay back?

  18. The Right to Privacy • Should a psychiatrist’s records about her patient be private, or may she sometimes break confidentiality with her patient and tell others? • Should you be required to reveal to others whether you have AIDS, or is it “Strictly your own business”? • Should others be able to find out how much you have in your checking account? • Should credit agencies be permitted to reveal your financial status to others? • Should others be able to take a picture of you without your consent? • … (see pages 216-217) • Privacy is never mentioned in the Constitution. The fourth amendment affirms “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” • Do you think privacy rights or more or less respected than they were 10 years ago? Why?

  19. Welfare Rights • Do rights arise from human needs? • Do the hungry have a moral claim on the rest of us? • Are all people on welfare disadvantaged? Should that matter? • What about government inefficiency? (see the bottom of page 223 and top of page 224)

  20. Positive versus negative rights • Negative rights: They require of others only the duty of non-interference. • Welfare rights require positive actions. • Specific rights vs. general rights. • Does welfare give people “the right to enslave?” (See bottom of page 226)

  21. Children’s Rights • Children have positive rights: They did not ask to be born, and the parents who brought them into existence have a duty to take care of them until they can take care of themselves. • Do children have the same negative rights that every human being has? Do they have the right not to be victims of coercion? • Children are not the property of the parents. • The parents are the guardians of their children.