Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dear Anti-Climacus:

I've been thinking about your post some more and realized that we are both using the word "right," but we have no defintion. Since you did your disseration on the topic, I assume you have one.



Withywindle said...


Anti-Climacus said...

Well, I wouldn't be much of a political theorist if I wasn't prepared to say 'it depends.'

It's not really a question of definition; it's the recognition that rights have a different valance and meaning in law, politics, and philosophy. I move pretty liberally (but hopefully comprehensibly) between the three, but I'm actually not sure how you could talk about it otherwise.

So when I talk about rights, I sometimes mean 'rights that are written down in legal documents' (with no judgment about the moral status of those rights), sometimes 'rights as preferences over political outcomes that are institutionalized in some form' and sometimes (though most rarely) as 'rights derived from the necessary conditions to lead a minimally decent human life.' All three of those are fairly widespread in the literature (at least as I've read it).

Is there a particular usage that's problematic to you?

FLG said...

Not really. I'm just thinking this through.

Alan Howe said...

Which is why the literature is so problematic. "Right" can mean virtually anything. What is to preclude adding yet another definition of the term adding a fourth quality that the term must cover? Use of the word now obscures its meaning.

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