Among my moral convictions is the conviction that there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between public or political morality and private or individual morality. This roughly corresponds to Kant's distinction between the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue. That there be such a distinction is important to me because I believe that political morality is very permissive, whereas private morality is very restrictive. I have tried to cash this out before. I want to try it again today, by examining what I take to be the central concept of political morality, the concept of having a right.
The kinds of rights I am interested in are rights to be treated in a certain way. We may talk about having a right against another person when one has a right to be treated in a certain way by that person. I think the most important rights are rights against everybody, but talking about one particular other person sometimes makes things simpler. Now, some people believe that every ought connected to another person gives rise to a right. (Here and in what follows 'ought' is a primitive moral ought.) That is, they hold that:
A has a right against B to be treated in manner m =df. B ought to treat A in manner m.
Here is a better definition, which I call the Grievance Criterion for Rights:
(GCR) A has a right against B to be treated in manner m =df. (i) B ought to treat A in manner m and (ii) if B does not treat A in manner m, A has a legitimate grievance against B.
But what constitutes a legitimate grievance? Here is one criterion, the Reparation Criterion for Grievances:
(RCG) If A has a legitimate grievance against B, and A demands reparations from B, then B ought to submit to A's demand.
There is a further claim, which will likely be more controversial, but which I think is also true. Call it Coerced Reparations.
(CR) If (i) A has a legitimate grievance against B, and (ii) A demands reparations from B, and (iii) B does not submit to A's demand voluntarily, and (iv) A coerces or attempts to coerce B into submitting to A's demand, this does not give B a legitimate grievance against A.
Now, something that is important to me is that this picture does not entail that whenever one has a legitimate grievance one ought to demand reparations, nor does it entail that whenever someone refuses to submit voluntarily to a demand for reparations coercion ought to be applied. This is critically important if a theory of rights anywhere near as broad as the libertarian theory is to have any plausibility. For instance, the libertarian theory of rights is broad enough to ensure that everyone in the US has a legitimate grievance against the US government. Because US law does not recognize all the natural rights individuals have (and also because of other institutional flaws), in most cases the government will not submit to demands for reparations. Yet it is clear that in the everyday cases in which, e.g., my freedom of contract is severely restricted, it would be both foolish and immoral to attempt to extract reparations by force.
Here is another closely related principle I accept. Call it Non-interference in Just Coercion.
(NJC) When conditions (i)-(iii) of CR are satisfied, A has a right not to be interfered with in coercing reparations from B.
I think these principles give a structural outline of the sort of theory I would want to defend.The challenge is in spelling out the details of the structure and, especially, in giving the view some actual content by identifying what rights individuals have.Posted by Kenny at February 18, 2010 5:49 PM
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