RIGHTS AND DUTIES

ethics  RIGHTS AND DUTIES:

Right has been defined in Oxford Dictionary as follows, Right is justifiable claim on legal or moral grounds to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.

There are many kinds of rights which a man has in his life. The kinds of right vary due to time and place, however, some of them are universal, and we mention here only their names here. Legal rights, ritual rights, moral rights, spiritual rights, conjugal rights, natural rights and fundamental rights etc.

What is a right?

Many moral controversies today are couched in the language of rights. Indeed, we seem to have witnessed an explosion of appeals to rights—gay rights, prisoners’ rights, animal rights, smokers’ rights, fetal rights, and employee rights. The appeal to rights has a long tradition. The American Declaration of Independence asserted that “all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In 1948, the United Nations published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that all human beings have “the right to own property…the right to work…the right to just and favorable remuneration… the right to rest and leisure.”

What is a right? A right is a justified claim on others. For example, if I have a right to freedom, then I have a justified claim to be left alone by others. Turned around, I can say that others have a duty or responsibility to leave me alone. If I have a right to an education, then I have a justified claim to be provided with an education by society.

The “justification” of a claim is dependent on some standard acknowledged and accepted not just by the claimant, but also by society in general. The standard can be as concrete as the Constitution, which guarantees the right of free speech and assures that every American accused of a crime “shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury,” or a local law that spells out the legal rights of landlords and tenants.

Moral rights are justified by moral standards that most people acknowledge, but which are not necessarily codified in law; these standards have also, however, been interpreted differently by different people.

Fundamental rights

John S. Mackenzie listed five rights as fundamental rights. First is the right to life, means that the life of the man should be protected and safeguarded from dangers and losses. Second is the right to freedom i-e it is the right of man to go freely and travel as he wishes, without any bar upon him. Third right is to hold property. Fourth right is of contract and fifth right is of education. The right of education means to learn what he wants and where he wants without any discrimination against his dignity as human being.

It should be kept in mind that the action which is duty and right action differs in two ways.

(1) It implies that only one action is right for us at the particular moment in question, because if it were equally right to do two alternative actions, we would not be able to say of either of them it is our duty to do it.

(2) It emphasizes that the action is not merely fitting but that is obligatory.

Dr Moore expanded this 2nd kind in 3 points.

(1) Duties are right actions which many people are tempted to avoid doing.

(2) the most prominent good effects of duties are on people other than the doer of the action.

(3) They arouse sentiments of moral approval in a way that merely right actions do not.

Negative and Positive Rights

One of the most important and influential interpretations of moral rights is based on the work of Immanuel Kant, an eighteenth century philosopher. Kant maintained that each of us has a worth or a dignity that must be respected. This dignity makes it wrong for others to abuse us or to use us against our will. Kant expressed this idea in a moral principle: humanity must always be treated as an end, not merely as a means. To treat a person as a mere means is to use a person to advance one’s own interest. But to treat a person as an end is to respect that person’s dignity by allowing each the freedom to choose for him or herself.

Kant’s principle is often used to justify both a fundamental moral right, the right to freely choose for oneself, and also rights related to this fundamental right. These related rights can be grouped into two broad categories—negative and positive rights. Negative rights, such as the right to privacy, the right not to be killed, or the right to do what one wants with one’s property, are rights that protect some form of human freedom or liberty, . These rights are called negative rights because such rights are a claim by one person that imposes a “negative” duty on all others—the duty not to interfere with a person’s activities in a certain area. The right to privacy, for example, imposes on us the duty not to intrude into the private activities of a person.

Kant’s principle is also often used to justify positive or, as they are often called, welfare rights. Where negative rights are “negative” in the sense that they claim for each person a zone of non-interference from others, positive rights are “positive” in the sense that they claim for each person the positive assistance of others in fulfilling basic constituents of human well-being like health and education. In moral and political philosophy, these basic human needs are often referred to as “welfare” concerns (thus this use of the term “welfare” is similar to but not identical with the common American usage of “welfare” to refer to government payments to the poor). Many people argue that a fundamental right to freedom is worthless if people aren’t able to exercise that freedom. A right to freedom, then, implies that every human being also has a fundamental right to what is necessary to secure a minimum level of well being. Positive rights, therefore, are rights that provide something that people need to secure their well being, such as a right to an education, the right to food, the right to medical care, the right to housing, or the right to a job. Positive rights impose a positive duty on us—the duty actively to help a person to have or to do something. A young person’s right to an education, for example, imposes on us a duty to provide that young person with an education. Respecting a positive right then requires more than merely not acting; positive rights impose on us the duty to help sustain the welfare of those who are in need of help.

Conflict of Rights

Whenever we are confronted with a moral dilemma, we need to consider whether the action would respect the basic rights of each of the individuals involved. How would the action affect the basic wellbeing of those individuals? How would the action affect the negative or positive freedom of those individuals? Would it involve manipulation or deception—either of which would undermine the right to truth that is a crucial personal right? Actions are wrong to the extent that they violate the rights of individuals.

Sometimes the rights of individuals will come into conflict and one has to decide which right has priority. We may all agree, for example, that everyone has a right to freedom of association as well as a right not to be discriminated against. But suppose a private club has a policy that excludes women from joining. How do we balance the right to freedom of association—which would permit the club to decide for itself whom to admit—against the right not to be discriminated against—which requires equal treatment of women? In cases such as this, we need to examine the freedoms or interests at stake and decide which of the two is the more crucial for securing human dignity. For example, is free association or equality more essential to maintaining our dignity as persons?

Rights, then, play a central role in ethics. Attention to rights ensures that the freedom and well-being of each individual will be protected when others threaten that freedom or well-being. If an individual has a moral right, then it is morally wrong to interfere with that right even if large numbers of people would benefit from such interference.

But rights should not be the sole consideration in ethical decision-making. In some instances, the social costs or the injustice that would result from respecting a right are too great, and accordingly, that right may need to be limited. Moreover, an emphasis on rights tends to limit our vision of what the “moral life” entails. Morality, it’s often argued, is not just a matter of not interfering with the rights of others. Relying exclusively on a rights approach to ethics tends to emphasize the individual at the expense of the community. And, while morality does call on us to respect the uniqueness, dignity, and autonomy of each individual, it also invites us to recognize our relatedness—that sense of community, shared values, and the common good which lends itself to an ethics of care, compassion, and concern for others.

Duty

A duty may be defined as the obligation of an individual to satisfy a claim made upon him by the community, or some other individual member or the members of that community. Many of us feel that there are clear obligations we have as human beings, such as to care for our children, and to not commit murder. Duty theories base morality on specific, foundational principles of obligation. These theories are sometimes called deontological

The first is that championed by 17th century German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf, who classified dozens of duties under three headings: duties to God, duties to oneself, and duties to others.

A second duty-based approach to ethics is rights theory. Most generally, a “right” is a justified claim against another person’s behavior -such as my right to not be harmed by you. Rights and duties are related in such a way that the rights of one person imply the duties of another person.

A third duty-based theory is that by Kant, which emphasizes a single principle of duty. Influenced by Pufendorf, Kant agreed that we have moral duties to oneself and others, such as developing one’s talents, and keeping our promises to others. However, Kant argued that there is a more foundational principle of duty that encompasses our particular duties. It is a single, self-evident principle of reason that he calls the “categorical imperative.” A categorical imperative, he argued, is fundamentally different from hypothetical imperatives that hinge on some personal desire that we have.

Theories of Duty

Many of us feel that there are clear obligations we have as human beings, such as to care for our children, and to not commit murder. Duty theories base morality on specific, foundational principles of obligation. These theories are sometimes called deontological, from the Greek word deon, or duty, in view of the foundational nature of our duty or obligation. They are also sometimes called nonconsequentialist since these principles are obligatory, irrespective of the consequences that might follow from our actions. For example, it is wrong to not care for our children even if it results in some great benefit, such as financial savings. There are four central duty theories.

The first is that championed by 17th century German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf, who classified dozens of duties under three headings: duties to God, duties to oneself, and duties to others. Concerning our duties towards God, he argued that there are two kinds:

(1) a theoretical duty to know the existence and nature of God, and

(2) a practical duty to both inwardly and outwardly worship God.

Concerning our duties towards one, these are also of two sorts:

(1) duties of the soul, which involve developing one’s skills and talents, and

(2) duties of the body, which involve not harming our bodies, as we might through gluttony or drunkenness, and not killing oneself.

Concerning our duties towards others, Pufendorf divides these between absolute duties, which are universally binding on people, and conditional duties, which are the result of contracts between people.

Absolute duties are of three sorts:

(1) avoid wronging others;

(2) treat people as equals, and

(3) promote the good of others. Conditional duties involve various types of agreements; the principal one of which is the duty is to keep one’s promises.

A second duty-based approach to ethics is rights theory. Most generally, a “right” is a justified claim against another person’s behavior -such as my right to not be harmed by you. Rights and duties are related in such a way that the rights of one person imply the duties of another person. For example, if I have a right to payment of $10 by Smith, then Smith has a duty to pay me Rs.10. This is called the correlativity of rights and duties. The most influential early account of rights theory is that of 17th century British philosopher John Locke, who argued that the laws of nature mandate that we should not harm anyone’s life, health, liberty or possessions. For Locke, these are our natural rights, given to us by God. Following Locke, the United States Declaration of Independence authored by Thomas Jefferson recognizes three foundational rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson and others rights theorists maintained that we deduce other more specific rights from these, including the rights of property, movement, speech, and religious expression. There are four features traditionally associated with moral rights.

First, rights are natural insofar as they are not invented or created by governments.

Second, they are universal insofar as they do not change from country to country.

Third, they are equal in the sense that rights are the same for all people, irrespective of gender, race, or handicap.

Fourth, they are inalienable which means that I ca not hand over my rights to another person, such as by selling myself into slavery.

A third duty-based theory is that by Kant, which emphasizes a single principle of duty. Influenced by Pufendorf, Kant agreed that we have moral duties to oneself and others, such as developing one’s talents, and keeping our promises to others. However, Kant argued that there is a more foundational principle of duty that encompasses our particular duties. It is a single, self-evident principle of reason that he calls the “categorical imperative.” A categorical imperative, he argued, is fundamentally different from hypothetical imperatives that hinge on some personal desire that we have, for example, “If you want to get a good job, then you ought to go to college.” By contrast, a categorical imperative simply mandates an action, irrespective of one’s personal desires, such as “You ought to do X.” Kant gives at least four versions of the categorical imperative, but one is especially direct: Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.

That is, we should always treat people with dignity, and never use them as mere instruments. For Kant, we treat people as an end whenever our actions toward someone reflect the inherent value of that person. Donating to charity, for example, is morally correct since this acknowledges the inherent value of the recipient. By contrast, we treat someone as a means to an end whenever we treat that person as a tool to achieve something else. It is wrong, for example, to steal my neighbor’s car since I would be treating her as a means to my own happiness. The categorical imperative also regulates the morality of actions that affect us individually. Suicide, for example, would be wrong since I would be treating my life as a means to the alleviation of my misery. Kant believes that the morality of all actions can be determined by appealing to this single principle of duty.

A fourth and more recent duty-based theory is that by British philosopher W.D. Ross, which emphasizes prima facie duties. Like his 17th and 18th century counterparts, Ross argues that our duties are “part of the fundamental nature of the universe.” However, Ross’s list of duties is much shorter, which he believes reflects our actual moral convictions:

  • Fidelity: the duty to keep promises
  • Reparation: the duty to compensate others when we harm them
  • Gratitude: the duty to thank those who help us
  • Justice: the duty to recognize merit
  • Beneficence: the duty to improve the conditions of others
  • Self-improvement: the duty to improve our virtue and intelligence

• Nonmaleficence: the duty to not injure others Ross recognizes that situations will arise when we must choose between two conflicting duties. In a classic example, suppose I borrow my neighbor’s gun and promise to return it when he asks for it. One day, in a fit of rage, my neighbor pounds on my door and asks for the gun so that he can take vengeance on someone. On the one hand, the duty of fidelity obligates me to return the gun; on the other hand, the duty of non-maleficence obligates me to avoid injuring others and thus not return the gun. According to Ross, I will intuitively know which of these duties my actual duty is, and which my apparent or prima facie duty is. In this case, my duty of non-maleficence emerges as my actual duty and I should not return the gun. (Source. This lesson has been summarized from An Introduction to Ethics by William Lillie, pages259272)

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