Cordial and Sanguine, Part 26: War Among the Bleeding Hearts Continued Some More By Roderick on April 23, 2012 7 My latest contribution to the symposium is finally up, as is a best of the blogs roundup. Antiquity, Ethics, Left-Libertarian, Online Texts, Rand, Spencer
Presumably the defenders of “social justice” want to bring that about by a state. Presumably they want that state to be a democracy. What if their favorite redistribution program is democratically rejected? Would they advocate a coup d’etat to implement it, or would they stick by the democratic process, try to convince more people of their point of view and hope for better luck next time? My guess is they would do the latter.
Likewise, property rights “absolutists” believe that if you want such a program, you have to convince people. Not convince them to vote for it (or for politicians who will implement it), but convince them to voluntarily donate to it. And if you don’t succeed, you have to try harder and hope you have better luck next time…
Not necessarily. Some are anarchists and others are at least anarcho-curious.
“I’m a bit puzzled by this. Ordinarily, to call something a right (at least a full-fledged as opposed to a prima facie right) just is to say, inter alia, that it trumps other considerations; in Ronald Dworkin’s memorable phrase, rights are trumps – and so claims that do not trump are not rights.”
I do not think that this is as puzzling a proposition as you make it sound. Joseph Raz provided an alternative account of rights that explicitly rejects Dworkin’s formulation of “rights as trumps.” [see, e.g., Raz, “Prof. Dworkin’s Theory of Rights”, 26 Pol. Studies 123 (1978); Raz, The Morality of Freedom (1986), at 186-87]. For Raz, rights are grounds of duties in others. [See, e.g., Raz (1986), at 166-67]. Raz provides a definition:
“’X has a right’ if and only if X can have rights, and, other things being equal, an aspect of X’s well-being (his interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty.” [Raz (1986), at 166].
Note two features of Raz’s account. First, to be under a duty is not to have an all-things considered reason to act. Duties and what one ought to do all things considered are not the same thing. Second, Raz says that a right grounds duties, that is, someone’s well-being is a “sufficient reason” for holding others under duties. Once again, on Raz’s account we see that “sufficient reason” is not the same thing as an “absolute reason” [see Practical Reason and Norms (1975), at 27 (an absolute reason is a reason that cannot be overridden by any other reason)].
So we can see in Raz’s account of rights that they ground duties, duties are both first-order and second-order reasons for action, but rights are not “trumps” in that that they tend not to be absolute reasons for action. In order to determine the strength of rights, we look to the underlying values that justify them: the well-being of individuals they promote.
I am not endorsing Raz’s account. I am only brining this up to indicate that Zwolinski and Tomasi’s account is not mysterious. They have adequate conceptual tools to ground their claim that rights are not absolute.
As a definition, that seems circular.
If so, then that’s a nonstandard use of the term “duty.” Admittedly, one can easily get an oddball conception of rights by defining them in terms of an oddball conception of duty.
So how are Razian rights different from prima facie rights?
Real quick response re: an “oddball conception of duty”:
I do not believe that Raz’s conception is oddball at all, and I think that we can see this in the case of promises. If I promise to meet you for lunch, but on my way I come across a burning building and I can save a child, I likely have an all-things considered reason to save the child and violate my promise, even though I have a duty not to violate my voluntary undertaking. Or suppose that I make a promise to meet you for lunch on Thursday at 1pm AND I make a promise to meet Kevin Carson for a round of golf at the same time. Duties are (1) first-order reasons to act in accordance with the duty, and (2) second-order reasons not to act on certain first-order reasons that imply acting in opposition to the duty. They exclude acting on certain reasons, such as violating a promise simply because “I dont feel like upholding it.” This does not mean, however, that they exclude *all* first-order reasons.
Although I find Raz’s discussions of duties, rules, and other mandatory norms highly illuminating, I do not know where I stand with respect to his account of rights (an “interest theory” of rights). Again, my only point is that I think you were a bit harsh on Zwolinski and Tomasi, that they have conceptual tools available for their account of rights. The more I reflect on their project, the more it seems obvious to me that they would be drawn to an interest theory of rights.
That sounds very odd to me (except when “duty” is shorthand for prima facie duty). On what seems to me the natural and ordinary way of hearing the term, “I have a duty to do X” straightforwardly entails “I should do X.”
That doesn’t mean that I think duties are always indefeasible. (Though of course we could make them so by saying your defeasible duty to keep your promise is really an indefeasible duty to keep-your-promise-unless [fill in the blank]. But we needn’t.) Where we disagree, I think, is not over whether a defeasible duty is still a duty, but over whether a defeated duty is still a duty.
I find it natural to say “I have a duty to meet you for lunch, but if an emergency were to come up, then I would no longer have that duty (though I might have the associated duty to let you know as soon as possible, or to make it up to you, etc.).” But it sounds very weird to say “since an emergency has come up, it’s ok for me to skip lunch with you, although I still have a duty to meet you for lunch.”
I’m not a fan of interest theories of rights, at least in the usual sense. As I see it, a right is (something like) a combination of a duty (the duty of those other than the rights-holder to treat her in a certain way) and a permission (the permissibility of the rights-holder’s, or the rights-holder’s agent’s, forcing others to treat her that way). A mere interest on the part of the rights-holder doesn’t seem sufficient to generate either the duty (people don’t have a general duty to serve everyone’s interests) or the permission (it’s not generally permissible for people to impose their interests forcibly on others). My own approach is eudaimonistic: the duty is generated by the moral interests of the duty-holder, not of the rights-holder, while the permission is generated as a mean between aggression and submission on the part of the rights-holder — with the caveat that the reasoning is shaped by the desirability of the right’s and duty’s being coordinate.
“A mere interest on the part of the rights-holder doesn’t seem sufficient to generate…”
Raz doesn’t really mean some small interest. “Interest” is shorthand for “well-being”, and certain rights must be grounded in their contribution to the right holder’s well-being. And they must do so in such a significant way that we ought to hold others under a duty to respect these rights. For Raz, there must be some *point*, some underlying *value* that justifies making a rights claim, a claim that grounds holding others under a duty (But like I said, I am somewhat skeptical about Raz’s interest theory (and interest theories in general)).