- Most modern discourse about morality resolves around rights. It therefore fails to answer the great moral questions like “How should I live my life?” and “What sort of person should I be?”
- If a ascribing a right to someone is to mean anything then there has to be a concomitant duty upon someone else to fulfil it, otherwise this right is worthless. NB This is not the same as the Blairite claim that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand – my rights impose duties upon you, not me.
- The more rights we ascribe to people, the more we tend to make the government mighty. If there is, say, a right to work, who can have the duty to give employment but the state? This process tends to make the individual citizen a spectator in important moral questions.
- Rights are human artefacts: we make them up. They do not exist in some Platonic universe, independent of humanity. In fact, the concept of a right make sense only in a complex society.
- Ultimately, the justification for the rights we do choose to give people is the kind of society those rights produce. If those rights produce a bad society, we change them
- The danger of expressing our moral judgement in the language of rights is that it becomes impossible to learn from experience. As I once wrote of the idea that school uniform might contravene human rights legislation:
I suppose you could say "Fancy that, school uniform has been immoral all along." But it seems to me more compelling to say that if the set of rights we have drawn up rule out a well-accepted practice like requiring pupils to wear a uniform then there is something wrong with that set of rights.Note that rights will not merely rule out what some regard as old-fashioned social practices: they will also make it harder to establish new ones.
- Moral rights tend to establish a minimum standard of conduct rather than to enshrine the depth of commitment that we have to one another in strong and loving relationships. So children's rights may describe an hygenic Home but will find it harder to describe a loving home.
- Political philosophies differ over the ends of life and how people should act: in short, they have different views of morality. Liberals should argue for their view of the world and endeavour to win power to implement it, but they should not be scandalised when people with other philosophies do not want to write Liberal conclusions into the rules of the contest.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Eight sceptical theses on moral rights
Discuss the following. Do not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once: