A Taxonomic Structure of Rights

What are rights? The most basic definition of rights are “principles possessed by individuals or groups that always correspond with reciprocal duties from other individuals or groups”. If I have a right to not be harmed for no good reason, then someone else has the duty to not harm me for no good reason. If I have the duty to not murder, then someone has the right to not be murdered.

In political science and law, the two types of rights that are discussed are legal rights and moral rights.

Legal rights are created by the State and the reciprocal duties that come with legal rights are enforced by the State. These rights are completely dependent on the actions of the State and as such, can be changed over time. The legal right to vote is a good example of this. I would say that there are two kinds of legal rights. The first are universal legal rights. Universal legal rights are held by all people and they correspond with universal legal duties by all people to all people. The legal right to not be raped is universal as all people have a legal duty to not rape any person. The second kind of legal right is the particular legal right. Particular legal rights are only held by some people and correspond to legal duties only held by some people. The legal right of a retiree to receive Social Security payments from the government is an example of a particular legal right.

In contrast to legal rights, moral rights are immutable and objective. Moral rights exist regardless of difference of personal, historical, and cultural opinion. An example of this is the moral right to not be tortured. Many cultures and nations have legally tortured and continue to legally torture. So in those societies, the government has a legal right to torture but a moral duty to not torture. No matter what the societal norm or legal rights are, there will always exist a moral duty to not torture. There are two types of moral rights. The first type of moral rights are natural rights or human rights. These moral rights belong to people by the very nature of their humanity. Human rights belong to all people at all times which corresponds to duties that all people have to everyone else. The moral right to be treated as a being with inherent worth, is a human right. The second type of moral rights are class-based rights or particular moral rights. Particular moral rights are moral rights that belong to a certain group of individuals that requires moral duties from a different group of individuals. The moral right of a child to be kept alive by his or her parents is a particular human right.

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What is the relationship between legal rights and moral rights? The relationship varies depending on legal jurisdiction and culture but can yield three separate combinations. The first of these combinations is that of a situation where something is both a moral right and a legal right. In the USA, this is the case for the right to not be tortured (minus Guantanamo Bay), the right to not be raped, the right to not be assaulted while posing no threat to anyone else, etc. The second combination is that of a situation where something is a moral right but not a legal right. In most states, a person does not have the legal right to consume cannabis which might be considered a moral right if there exists a moral right to do anything that does not harm others or yourself. The third combination is occurs when something is a legal right but is not a moral right. An example in the USA is that of the legal right of a pregnant woman to terminate her pregnancy if there exists a moral right for human persons to be born and the fetus is a human person.

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7 Responses to A Taxonomic Structure of Rights

  1. newbieblogster13 says:

    Sorry, I got a little confused as to what your definition of particular legal right is. Do you mean people who can receive entitlement benefits should get it? So, is it more a class/age type of right like a right to drive is age 16 and the right to drink alcohol is age 21 for the U.S. Also, I have to disagree with you about moral rights being objective; I believe moral rights are more subjective because by whose morals are you talking about? everyone’s moral varies depending on where and how they were raised. Killing humans may be a moral wrong to most people but if you asked cannibals who were raised to not only kill but also eat humans, they may have a different view on things. To them, other humans are a means of survival. Using a less disgusting example, people also think killing animals are morally wrong, but many others see it as entertainment(hunting), survival(livestock), and decoration(fashion/furniture). So, they may not see it as morally wrong.

  2. roblewis92 says:

    By particular legal rights, I mean any legal right that belongs to fewer than all people in a society and requires a corresponding legal duty from fewer than all the people in a society. I used the example of the legal duty of the government to pay retirees the benefits that they have a legal right to under the Social Security Act of 1935.

    Moral rights must be objective. If moral rights are subjective to the person, then nobody else have a moral duty to that person. Moral rights require a moral connection that is transcendent of that one person. Otherwise, maybe it is Person A’s subjective moral right to not be raped by Person B but as this right is merely subjective to Person A’s self, Person B does not have a moral duty to not rape Person A.

    You are confusing moral epistemology with moral ontology. Moral epistemology is the study of how we know what is moral or immoral. Moral ontology is the study of what is moral or immoral. Just because somebody was raised to believe that it isn’t morally wrong to rape because the woman was “asking for it” does not mean that it is morally permissible to rape. Just because people disagree on moral facts does not negate the existence of moral facts.

    For example, Hitler believed it was morally permissible to murder millions of Jews, Gypsies, gays, etc. Does this mean that the morality of Hitler’s action were subjective? Were his actions just his “different view on things?” No. Hitler’s actions were evil because his actions violated objective moral criteria. Just because Hitler didn’t think his actions were evil does make his actions non-evil in any sense.

    • theginja says:

      You’re saying objective morality is a tautology, true by definition. You’re saying Morality HAS to be objective, it exists, and that’s what makes them work. So the follow up question isn’t “who’s morality are we using” … it would be does it exists at all? Then, if it does exist, you have the meta-ethical quest for showing how we know, or how we discover what is good and bad. There are ways to do this, but the most common is divine morality. So I ask, “do morals exist?” & “how do we derive them?”

      Next, you can’t prove a claim by saying someone else got it “wrong”. The Hitler example doesn’t work here. The fact that he behaved amorally has to be shown, not that he just got it wrong.

      (we also aren’t differentiating between morals and ethics … that could help the conversation)

      • roblewis92 says:

        “You’re saying objective morality is a tautology, true by definition. You’re saying Morality HAS to be objective, it exists, and that’s what makes them work.”

        No, I am saying that “morality is objective” is a tautology. I am saying that morality exists and is therefore objective. Subjective morality is contradictory.
        Take these statements:
        1. Child molestation is morally permissible.
        2. Child molestation is morally impermissible.
        Subjective morality would allow for both these statements to be true. So unless we are willing to part with the Law of Non-Contradiction, it is safe to say that if morality exists, then morality is objective.

        “… it would be does it exists at all?”
        I think you’ll know the answer after pondering whether rape is morally wrong or morally right.

        “Then, if it does exist, you have the meta-ethical quest for showing how we know, or how we discover what is good and bad.”
        Those questions are outside the scope of this discussion but I would say that morality is properly basic.

        “So I ask, “do morals exist?” & “how do we derive them?””
        Morality exists. How we derive them is a good starting point for a conversation, not the end to the conversation.

        ” Next, you can’t prove a claim by saying someone else got it “wrong”.”
        No, but if I can prove that the other person got it wrong and my view is contradictory to their view, then I prove my claim.

        ” The Hitler example doesn’t work here. The fact that he behaved amorally has to be shown, not that he just got it wrong.”
        He didn’t behave amorally. He behaved immorally. If morality exists, then every conscious human action is either moral or immoral.

  3. theginja says:

    You’re assuming my position, I said before, I’m not saying you’re right or wrong. I was saying you didn’t effectively address the question. Point by point:

    I actually agree with you, Morality as a concept is objective … you can’t have a subjective morality, because then it wouldn’t be morality. BUT, in order to make a moral claim you do need to show that it does exist. And unfortunately, you can’t say, “you’ll know the answer after pondering whether rape is morally wrong or morally right.” It doesn’t address the dilemma. X is wrong because it is! There is no substance to that statement, its an opinion until we have a rationale behind it.

    Which brings me back to the starting point, you need to show morality is a real thing. You called it a “starting point” and it is. It must be addressed before we can call things “good” or “bad”. So, I do think it is integral to the scope of the conversation.

    “if I can prove that the other person got it wrong and my view is contradictory to their view, then I prove my claim.” – You are rejecting the existence of neutral acts. You are saying there are only good and bad acts, nothing in-between … (I think you are making this claim?) but this makes my choice between Pepsi and coke much more stressful!!! If I am wrong, and you do acknowledge neutral acts, you have a false-dichotomy fallacy.

  4. roblewis92 says:

    I understand what you are saying about making moral claims. I was under the impression that you were a moral nihilist to which no other explanation could be given but “It just is”.

    “If morality exists, then every conscious human action is either moral or immoral.”
    By “moral”, I mean something that is morally permissible. For something to be moral, it just has to be non-immoral. Choosing Coke is a moral decision as is choosing Pepsi, (as long as you don’t steal or murder somebody while doing it), So I am not saying that every choice is between something morally permissible and something morally impermissible. Rather I am saying that every action that can be taken is must be either morally permissible or morally impermissible.

    X is a moral action iff X is a morally permissible action.
    X is an immoral action iff X is a morally impermissible action.

  5. aussielandmn says:

    I’m afraid that I am struggling to understand how doing a non-immoral act is considered a moral one. That opens every action that does not violate moral law a moral action. At least to my interpretation a moral action requires the weighing of morality and thus the consequences have moral consequences. To me that implies a very negative view of human nature. If every action that a person takes is considered moral because it is purely not immoral it implies to me that people are constantly struggling against the want to commit an immoral action.

    I think a much simpler break down of rights is legal rights and natural rights. Legal rights are as you stated, rights given to you and clearly enumerated by the state. Natural rights on the other hand are synonymous with human rights. Like what Locke and the founding fathers said, natural rights are life, liberty, and property. Property in this sense is not merely limited to what one physically owns but what is properly yours. This then encompasses a number of different rights such as the right not to be tortured or be oppressed. As Locke says it is part of the government’s responsibility to protect ones natural rights including his property. Hence the cross over between legal and natural rights. Examples of this are certain parts of the Bill of Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. Thus Hitler was wrong because he violated natural rights. I think getting into moral rights confuses the situation.

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