Individual Human Rights: Reconciling Rights with Value Pluralism
Haddow, Neil Corwyn
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Abstract: This thesis examines the foundations of individual human rights. The general thought that informs the discussion is that rights and values are two different kinds of moral discourse. Hence, any attempt to simply state rights in value terms will be problematic because the agent-relative character of values does not lend itself to grounding/ explaining interpersonal rules, like rights. The thesis outlines agent-relative values, showing their plausibility, and then proceeds to show how rights perform a different function. The attempt to move from talk about what is right to what rights we have is termed the ‘moralist fallacy’. Rights are kinds of restrictions that others face on their actions when they are promoting their own good. Axiology is about how best to achieve one’s objective agent-relative good; so values involve trade offs and calculations agents can perform about what is in their best interest, while rights are not open to trade offs and calculations because they are restrictions that agents face when they are pursuing their own good. The main problem the thesis discerns is how rights can be concerned with protecting the concerns of others when what people legitimately care about are their own concerns. Two different views of the motivational legitimacy of rights are examined—the agent well being view and the agent-recipient view. On the former, rights are motivationally appealing and justified because abiding by them can be shown to be part of what constitutes an agent’s (who is subject to abiding by rights) well being; on the latter view, abiding by rights constitutes part of the recipient’s (who has the rights) well being. Taken separately these two views are problematic. Rights legitimacy would seem to require something from both views. But since these views are contraries they do not seem open to combination either. The thesis will attempt to provide a solution to reconciling the agent well being and agent recipient views while trying to retain the nature of rights as restrictions not open to trade offs or reducible to value talk. Rights function as restrictions, but why do they function this way and how are they justified when what people are mostly concerned with is their own agent-relative good? Rights must be a separate kind of moral claim, not reducible to talk about what values we have in order for rights to have the motivational and justificatory strength they need for interpersonal validity and to resist paternalist interferences. Rights will have this strength if they are based on something that all value pursuers require—such as recognition of one’s legitimate claim to possess oneself. First possession based on first come, first serve will provide legitimacy for a system of rights because it will appeal to and motivate agents by relating rights-respect to their well being. I will argue that abiding by others’ rights is in one’s best interest because doing so is a wise choice—while one might believe that not abiding by others’ rights might give one the best outcome, one cannot be sure about this and so ought to choose to abide by rights as a general policy. Also, agents ought to make sure that they voice their concerns over rights violations of others. Even though this may not be to their immediate benefit, it is rational for agents to speak out on this issue and reinforce rights–respecting behaviour because making the system effective will ultimately be in their own long-term self-interest. The thesis also tries to make sense of how rights are compossible and when rights might face thresholds beyond which they no longer hold.