The Inflation of Rights

Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University (1990)

In recent decades, we have seen a remarkable proliferation of the kinds of moral rights that people are thought to have. While many of these new rights have gained sizable support, the theoretical underpinnings of all rights have remained uncertain. The danger in the growth of rights claims is that we may weaken rights. As more and more desirable goods are demanded as people's "rights," the actual protection which rights afford is diminished. Abundant rights will bump up against one another, preventing many rights from being fully satisfied. The long-term effect of this rights inflation will be the erosion of the value of rights, rather than the intended aim of enhanced security for people. ;The dissertation examines in two stages what the status of rights should be. First, it explores the history of the notion of rights, the exact meaning of what it is to have a right, and the obligations which rights place on other persons. It also presents an argument defending the view that all people have certain moral rights "naturally," independently of social creation or recognition. ;The second stage of the discussion focusses more directly on certain aspects of the recent expansion of rights claims. It delineates the logical and practical implications of rights "conflicts" which the boom in rights precipitates. Finally, it considers one particular type of rights which has been enjoying increasing acceptance: rights to be provided with concrete goods . ;The major conclusions reached are first, that the notion of "natural" moral rights is a credible and valuable component within an adequate moral theory; second, that individuals do have extensive rights to freedom of action; third, that "natural" moral rights cannot directly conflict with one another; and fourth, that welfare rights are spurious. ;As a whole, this work is intended largely as a caution to tame the recent enthusiasm for rights. Restraint is needed in order to preserve rights, and to allow rights to exert their protective powers to individuals more effectively
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