A new instrumental theory of rights

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (2):215-228 (2010)
My goal in this paper is to advance a long-standing debate about the nature of moral rights. The debate focuses on the questions: In virtue of what do persons possess moral rights? What could explain the fact that they possess moral rights? The predominant sides in this debate are the status theory and the instrumental theory. I aim to develop and defend a new instrumental theory. I take as my point of departure the influential view of Joseph Raz, which for all its virtues is unable to meet the challenge to the instrumentalist that I will address: the problem of justifying the enforcement of rights. I then offer a new instrumental theory in which duties are grounded on individuals’ interests, and individuals rights exist in virtue of the duties owed to them. I argue that my theory enables the instrumentalist to give the right sort of justification for enforcing rights
Keywords Ethics  Moral philosophy  Rights  Reasons  Duty  Justification  Coercion
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