Course Outline

Paper Topics

Additional Materials


Phil/RelSt 380, Justice, Rights, and Religious Belief Fall 2010

Instructor: Dr. Norman Lillegard   Office:  H 229    881 7384

Office Hours:  10-ll am TTH and by appointment.

Texts: Justice: Rights and Wrongs , by Nicholas Wolterstorff

            Handouts, Sites, etc.



Course Requirements:

!               Attend class and participate, do the readings, do all written assignments, pass the exams. Two exams. (multiple choice, T/F, short answers, essay). First exam worth 120 pts, Final exam is comprehensive, worth 180 pts. Total, 300 pts.

!               Quizzes: there will be occasional unannounced quizzes. Missed quizzes cannot be made up. Each quiz will be worth 6 – 12 points, and will consist of multiple choice and T/F questions, and possible short answers.  One half of the quiz points are extra credit. Ca. 80  pts.

!               You will be assigned outlines of chapters or parts of chapters. 4-6 outlines, about 15 pts each.

!                You must write TWO short papers (1500 words each). Topic to be selected in consultation with the instructor. The first paper is due Oct 12. The second is due Dec. 2.  THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THESE DUE DATES.  100 points each.

!               Attendance.  Regular attendance and informed participation in class are essential since (a) not everything covered in class is included in the text (b) you will need help with this material, and that is what class sessions, and the instructor, are for. 40 points.

Total points ca. 700.  Normally %90 of total points gets you an 'A', %80 a 'B' and so forth, but significant adjustments for curve are made when necessary.


Paper Content,  Style, Sources: 

Papers are to be analytical. Take an issue and argue the pros and cons. Argue. An argument is a set of statements, some of which (the premises) support others (the conclusion(s)).  The conclusions should follow from the premises.  Exceptions to this “argument style” are possible but need special justification.

Papers should contain relevant documentation in footnotes or endnotes. 


You can use the internet to track down some sources, and you can consult with me. But your sources should be books or well developed essays by reputable writers. Forget internet blogs and other internet sources that are not well accredited.  You can use our own IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) edited by Prof. Fieser, and you can use the Stanford IEP.   I strongly suggest that you check with me regarding the use of any other resources.


You are encouraged to hand in a version of your paper(s) early, in order to get instructor feedback.



Class Conduct, Instructor's Role, etc.  What I Expect of Students.

Academic Integrity:  Any form of cheating on quizzes, exams, or PAPERS will result in an ‘F’ for the assignment and probationary status for the entire course. NO EXCEPTIONS.  Policies regarding academic integrity are further detailed in the student handbook. Cheating includes plagiarism. DO YOUR OWN WORK.


Cell Phones:  phones must be OFF during classes. You may not make ANY use of cell phones during any exam or quiz.. Use of cell phones in such circumstances counts as cheating and results in an F for that exam


Class format: Classes will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion. Feel free to interrupt with questions. Always do so by raising your hand. Acknowledgment may not always be immediate but it will come. Try to keep your remarks relevant. Listen respectfully to other students even if you think they are “way off.”  They might be doing better than you think!


You may leave class only in an emergency, or when you have made an arrangement ahead of time with the instructor. Otherwise, if you leave class you will be counted absent, no matter how soon you return.


THE PURPOSES OF THIS COURSE  .The purposes include the following, in order of importance: To develop a critical appreciation for an argument which concludes that the concept, and practice of,  Justice  require a religious foundation !!  To develop a critical appreciation for the concept of a right, its history, its current status and disputes regarding that concept. To get familiar with some of the philosophical history behind various concepts of justice and rights. To become more familiar with some of the religious history behind the concept of justice as honoring of rights.  To become familiar with arguments which attempt to show that secular thought cannot (can) account for inherent rights. To become familiar with an argument which attempts to show that inherent rights can only be grounded religiously.

   You will be tested on critical reading and critical thought, on your understanding of the issues raised, your ability to respond relevantly to arguments, and to identify salient historical/religious/philosophical facts. Likewise for grading of your papers.


Course Outline: (subject to adjustments) W=Wolterstorff

Week I. Aug. 31.: The UN Declaration. W p. 1-17 . Outline p.7-10 Define distributive, commutative, retributive justice.

Week II Sept. 7.  W p. 22-43  

Week III Sept. 14: W p. 44-64

Week IV Sept. 21: W 65-131. 

Week V Sept. 28: W p. 135-148

Week VI Oct. 5:  W p. 149-179

Week VII Oct. 12: W p.180-206.  Oct. 12:  FIRST SHORT PAPER DUE.

             MIDTERM EXAM, TH Oct 14.  

Week VIII.  Oct. 19, W 207-226.   Oct. 23-26: FALL BREAK

Week IX.  Oct. 26, W 227-263

Week X.Nov. 2:, W 264-284

Week XI Nov. 9: W 285-322

Week XII Nov. 16: W 323-341

Week XIII Nov. 23:W 342-361 (Thanksgiving break, Nov. 24-28).

Week XIV Nov. 30:  362-393 DEC 2  SECOND SHORT PAPER DUE   

Week XV Dec. 7. Review. Dec. 10, last day of classes.

            FINAL EXAM – Thursday, Dec. 16, 10-12 a.m.


Possible paper topics: Secular conceptions of justice (e.g. Kantian, Rawlsian, Ancient Eudaimonist); The background to the UN declaration; Feminist conceptions of Justice; Love vs. Justice; Justice as fairness; Justice as right order; Rights as all legally conferred; Rights as natural; Animal rights; Gay rights; Rights of the poor; The history of rights.

            You can take any chapter in W, and write a paper on it. The chapter footnotes will contain secondary resources.








A.Widespread hostility to ‘rights talk’


B. Objections to focus on Justice/rights  by  




(illustrate and explain)

Why A?

        (1) some is silly

          (2) some is politically/socially motivated

          (3) ‘rights’ are inherently individualist, possessive

         (4) 3 is supported by a narrative.


       (give Examples of 1-4)



Analysis of RIGHTS


Rights are normative social bonds. (what does that mean?)


A right = a legitimate claim to being treated so and so - or left alone.


By others


The ‘treatment’ has to do with ‘life, and history, goods.’ (Give examples of both).


Types of rights     legal





Rights grounded in WORTH

       Are fundamental to COMMUNITY



Addressing A.

       (1) avoid

       (2) too bad for them (illustrate)

       (3) problems with claiming and honoring  (illustrate).

     (4) show the history is wrong.


We NEED rights talk, to preserve the RECIPIENT DIMENSION of morality.

(Explain, illustrate)


CANNOT reduce recipient dimension to agent dim.

i.e. cannot  reduce rights talk to talk of duties (what does this mean, why is it true?)



JR:A JUST social order =order in which people’s rights are honored, i.e. they enjoy those goods to which they have a right.




JRO:A JUST social order=order which is ‘right’, i.e. conforms to some ideal or divine structure.  E.g. Plato, natural law.


JR-Justice= each person has those goods to which he/she is entitled, or which are due him/her, etc.


Having a right to X = being entitled to X, having a claim to X - but, one need not make the claim in order for justice to be preserved.


P has a right. P could be an individual, a group, - large or small, or even something non-human (give examples of each)


JRO- Justice as right order


What is the issue between Right Ord and Inherent Rts theorists?  INHERENT, not just ‘natural,’ rights.


The issue is WHAT ACCOUNTS FOR RIGHTS? Some are of course legal, or result from divine law, or etc. Are ALL? The right ord theorist thinks so. The inherent rts theorist thinks not.


The inherent rights theorist holds that some rights are inherent, not conferred,


The Right Order theorist CANNOT ACCOUNT FOR INHERENT RIGHTS. But we need them.


What about Aquinas?

The external aspect of law, or,

 the eternal plan, (Plato) . Use reason to discern an order entirely independent of this world


The ‘internal” nature of law in Aquinas.

Use reason to reflect on our natural inclinations, so as to conform to them.


But rights do not enter the picture.


Why am I obligated not to steal or murder? Because there is a law of God forbidding it. Why is there? Because of the way God created – all laws reflect nature of created order. So, to violate those laws is to violate ones own nature. (and what is the result of doing that?)


It is not suggested that I should not murder because in doing so I violate someone’s rights. Rather I violate an objective ‘right order.’ What I do is not ‘right’ but not because I violate a subjective right.




Replying to the narrative;

The story about the purportedly disreputable origins of the idea of individual subjective rights.


Ockham and the Francisans.

(What is supposed to be the problem?)


Rights in the enlightenment.


Hobbes: individuals in a state of nature recognize need for law. Rights are for protection of individual, who has no nature other than instinct of self preservation.


Rights and social contract

Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau


Pre-social individuals bargaining for own interest. The interests of others, or of the community, are left out.(so why is that supposed to be bad?)




P 54  Rights” are everywhere (in the medieval period for instance.)   But these are not necessarily INHERENT rights.

Note especially early xtian ideas in the ‘church fathers.’ Suggestion that the poor must be treated a certain way for the sake of justice, no matter what laws or agreements may exist. They are wronged when the rich keep for themselves what they do not need.

They have rights. Natural rights.

Suggestion of inherent right - rights language not used.


Where did these ideas come from? Religious sources? No doubt in this case.


Justice and rights in the OT

Rights language not used in bible. Justice language abounds.

What is prominent in the OT?


Mishpat and tsedeqa


                     God’s love of justice


God is committed to Justice God requires the same


What God loves is patterns of behavior that are just prior to his loving them.  His loving them is not what makes them just.


3 marks of an inherent rights conception;

       1.Recipient dimension  --  wronging

       2. Recognition of worth of persons

       3. 2 as grounding 1.


Illus 1. Wronging God.  Implied by forgiveness. 

Illus 2. Worth of God



God’s rights are obviously inherent. Not grounded in any rule or law or practice.

Humans also have them – (give examples of each. see p. 95)



       De-justicizing the NT    Hauerwas. Nygren.



Problem with Nygren (what is it?):


Justice in the gospels (illustrate)


Locating rights

A theory of rights requires a conception of the good life. (Why?)

The conception provided by eudaimonism doesn’t fill the bill.

Therefore ancient ethical theory doesn’t. (explain)


Well, what about the good?

Understanding the Good


Non instrumental goods


A good life=life constituted by right kind and proportion  of states of affairs (SAs.)


Good=that which is worthy of approbation.


THREE CONCEPTIONS OF THE GOOD LIFE. What SAs constitute a good life? Three possibilities.

1. experientially satisfying

2. happy - well lived life

3. flourishing - lived well AND goes well


#1 Utilitarianism

Will not work. (why not?)


 2. Eudaimonism

It cannot serve either.



Stoic version


A decided contrast with the peripatetics on the place of emotion in the good life. (Illustrate)

Contrast the peripatetics.


For the peripatetics, happiness is hostage to fortune, for stoics it is not. (Explain, illustrate)


THE PROBLEMS FOR THE  STOICS (illustrate, explain)


The sum: according to the eudaemonist, non-instrumental goods are life goods; life goods are activities; thus the good life is the well lived (active) life. 


Rights are ‘passivities.’  What brings about, or impedes, some life goods, is things done to me, as opposed to things I do, or fail to do. Thus I may be miserable because of what is done to me.

       (Therefore, what follows?)


According to the eud, I should act so as to promote my ‘living well.’ But how about acting so as to ensure your rights, whether it promotes my living well or not.

(note the account of the Danes on p. 177. What is odd about it?).   


How the Justice as rights idea takes hold in the west.

(Must first get rid of eud. Why?)

Augustine; breaking the ‘spell of ancient eudaimonism.’


Early Aug – Stoic-rest(tranquility) in that which cannot fail (as opposed to that which is in ones own control)


Stoics- by our beliefs we put ourselves at the mercy of that which can fail–

Aug- by our loves “    “.


Augustine gradually abandons the stoic ideology. Cf. augustine’s tears.(What about them?)

Love overcomes Stoicism.


Love in Augustine

 Neo platonism. Eros.

       Love as eros

       Love as attachment

       Love as benevolence      

What are the relations?


What exposure does each kind include?


Humans are essentially lovers

Contrast to Stoics (What is the contrast?

What is the root of the human problem?

Either_________(augustine) or _________(stoics))


If the object of love is the correct one, is ‘tranquility’ assured? (Answer this)


Welcoming sorrow on behalf of others. (What would the peripatetics say? The stoics? What does the NT say?cf. the NT models; Jesus, Paul.

Cf. city of God (p.197))


To love, AND TO GRIEVE,  is HUMAN. P. 199 City of God.


What about tranquility then? (Answer this)


There is no escape from the external and internal miseries of this life, and to think we CAN escape (by our own struggle or power) is pride.


The affirmation of compassion and the break with eudaimonism. (How are they connected?)


Love of neighbor IN love of God.



The structure of the Good life/rights





i itself is a good in Paul’s life. As is the honoring of Paul’s rights a good for Peter.


Goods specified by ii and iii are good in themselves, apart from any rights.


Contrast to eudai.ism. The goods of such things as adequate income are merely instrumental, not good in themselves, according to the eud.


Moreover enjoying i is not part of how one lives one’s life.( explain)


And, the goods i - iii could be misused. But they would still be goods. Not so with the goods instrumental to virtue.


                                  a. Well lived life

Well being

                                  b. Well-going life


No room for rights in a.  On the other hand, there is room for a in b. A life that goes well can include a life that is lived well. (Illustrate)


Eirenism; shalom, and dependence and vulnerability.


Characterizing life and history goods:


Desire satisfaction (Util) can’t do it.  All util’s agree that well being cannot consist simply in desire satisfaction. The desires have to be of the right kind.

(Explain this, and state the criticism that follows from this problem)


Proper function theories (Eud) can’t do it


The goods in a life include e.g friendship. The actual friendship does not manifest proper function. The capacity for it does. Cf. a person capable of friendship but forgoes it.  No malfunction there.


Characterizing human good in terms of divine desire.

(How do you do this?)



How understand rights?

i.e. how differentiate goods to which we have rights, and, what accounts for that?

Suppose x is a good to which I have a R, y is a good to which I do not. (give Examples.)


Some proposals on general nature of Rs (part III)


1. Rights (Rs) grounded in duties


     2.                                      respect


1 a. R to those goods nec to doing ones duty (ramsey)

1.b. claim Rs grounded in duty (Hohfield)


(Illustrate I a and I b. Give some criticisms of each)


Strong Hohf thesis; Weak thesis,  plus if duties then rights

Apparent examples of duties without corresponding rights.

    (Give examples. Show how to avoid those that can be avoided. Show why strong Hohfeld must be abandoned)


Weak Hohf still stands. If R, then D

BUT,.  Does D ground, or account for R?

Suppose that in torturing A, I violate A’s Rs, and that is so BECAUSE (or on account of the fact that) in torturing A I violated my DUTY. That duty grounds that R.


This view fits the Right Order conception of Justice. A matrix of obligations determines Rs,  Rs are derivative.

Nonetheless suppose this is correct; Duties ground rights.


What then, grounds duties?

a.   Social contract

b.  Moral authorities

Divine command ethics is a variety of b.


Suppose God is the authority. Suppose God’s commands generate Obligs.  How do they do that?


Well, How, in general, do commands do that?


Not by mere utterance of ‘I command etc.” Mere locutionary act. Must perform the illocutionary act of commanding. (Explain that)


Among the conditions, are,

       STANDING  obligations. These come with an OFFICE or POSITION. (Illustrate.)

BUT, the standing Obligs could not be the result of commands. (Say why not)


Perhaps the standing Obligs are not MORAL Obligs.

Perhaps all MORAL obligs come from God’s commands.


Cf. Obligs generated by social/linguistic practices. Cf. games. P. 278-79.

W’s reply. Social/linguistic Obs are ALSO moral Obs in the case of commands and promises.

Why? (Answer this).



It follows that divine commands do not account for ALL duties/obligs. So divine command theory does not give a general account of duty/oblig.


(Therefore, what?).


So, they must be grounded in respect. Or something like it.


To repeat: What grounds or accounts for rights

     Not duties  (not Ramsey, not any authority account (e.g. divine commands)


    Grounded in respect.


How does the respect account go?

       We must show that violating a right is wronging some person(s)

       Then we must show that wronging always involves disrespect.

       We can then conclude that rights are grounded in respect for persons.


Consider first the fundamental structure of rights generally.

       The fundamental structure – Rs are Rs to life goods that are due to me (Ulpian). They are rights to actions or restraints from actions on the part of others. Many life goods are not DUE to me. All that are,  are due from some person or social entity , i.e. entail obligations on the part of persons (or social entities, I omit this from now on). My right to the good of having lunch with you tomorrow when you PROMISED, is a right against you, you undertook an obligation when you promised. So it is actually a right to the good of your keeping your promise (not a right to the good of the lunch-with-you itself). But this involvement of persons –in- relationship characterizes ALL rights, even though at first glance it might not seem so. Thus my right to a stroll in the New Haven green is not a right to the stroll itself (which is not another person’s acting or refraining), but to being FREE to stroll; other persons/entities may not interfere with my stroll (it is a permission R). Likewise my right to a monthly SS check is not a right to the check itself, but a right against certain govt officials, or govt agency (the SSA), that they send the check (benefit right).  Likewise for permission and benefit rights generally.  The structure of rights always involves persons, therefore rights are essentially social.  (if there was only one person in the world, that person would have NO RIGHTS. But of course there could be lots of life goods in that world )


Rights are the correlatives of FULL COGNITION duties or obligations.


What is the difference between those goods (actions or refrainings) to which I have a right and those to which I do not have a right?  I do not have a right to your giving me your car (assuming you did not promise etc.) I do have a right against the dealer with whom I just contracted that he give me the car. What is the difference?  It cannot be that the difference consists in how much of a good is involved. The good of owning an original Rembrandt would be greater than virtually all the goods to which I have rights. That fact shows nothing about whether I have a right to it (I do not have any right at all to any Rembrandt as a matter of fact).  The goods to which I have rights may contribute less to my life going well, to my happiness and flourishing, than do many goods to which I do NOT have a right.


The violation of a right is a wronging.  A wronging is always an action or restraint from action of some other person.


So what is the difference?


We are looking for an account of MORAL rights, specifically rights within primary justice.

We want this account to cover  benefit rights, permission rights, natural rights, socially conferred rights,  linguistically generated rights, inherent rights.


We want an account that shows why we get angry when wronged.

We want an account that recognizes the situated character of rights. (rights are against specific persons at specific times. On Tuesday when you promised me lunch, I had a right to your keeping it, but on Wed after you have been incarcerated, I no longer have that right.)


So, why does no. 1, but not no. 2, have a right against Frank that he grant him the prize?

No. 1 has a certain status within the practice of judging/awarding in which they are all participating. The status of having turned in the best performance in the judgment of the judge.  Who is due what is defined within that practice; the prize is due no. 1 because he has that status within that practice.  The practice does not allow for the judge to take anything else into account. Period.  In particular, no amount of life goods that might accrue to anyone (even no. 1!) by giving the prize to no. 2  can be considered.  The judge (Frank) wrongs no. 1 if he gives the prize to no. 2. Even if doing so should somehow make everyone (including even no. 1) very happy.


Morally Frank should not give no. 2 the prize. Is that because in doing so he would have failed in virtue? But it is possible in giving it to no. 2 that he acts virtuously.  Is it because he would have failed to maximize utility?  But considerations of utility were ruled out at the start. By agreeing to participate in that practice Frank agreed to NOT take into account utility. Therefore if he does so he betrays those with whom he covenanted by entering into that practice. The betrayal (of trust) is what makes giving it to no. 2 morally wrong.  That is what makes it a case of wronging no. 1. That is so even if Frank gave it to no. 2 out of noble motives.


Anger is an appropriate response to betrayal.


This shows what it means to say that rights are trumps.  And they are supra-practice trumps.  Frank cannot put the good of the practice itself, , along with other utility goods,  into the calculation of what to do (that is what Mill advocated).    NO kind of utility consideration is allowed once you are inside the  practice.

An example: suppose a soccer ref refrains from giving a red card to a  player who deserves it, because the ref thinks that the absence of that player from the game will make it very boring and lopsided. If others (players, coaches, fans) learn about it, they can rightly claim they have been betrayed by this ref. And if they do not care about that, that shows not only that they do not care about the game, (as it is defined by the rules) but that they do not care about morality very much either.


The right to not be betrayed is a NATURAL RIGHT (not a right one has only within certain practices etc.)


What is the connection between wronging and disrespect? To wrong is  to treat someone as though they are not worth better treatment.

But what does that mean? When are you treating some person with disrespect?


When, in treating that person in a certain way

a.  You disregard the non-instrumental value of that person, or

b. You ignore or fail to note the respect/disrespect import of your action, or

c.   You disregard or fail to note the fact that your action does not FIT the worth of that person, or,

some combination of these.

When do you do b? when you ignore that doing X  imposes some life evil or deprives of some life good. Performing the illocutionary act of insulting someone (saying or doing something that counts as showing disrespect), raping someone,  betraying trust, knocking out of the way, are examples. Disrespect is shown to a person as such and such (to a woman as dept chair, to a man as king, to no. 1 as pianist )

The non-instrumental value of a person is the worth of that person. The worth of persons varies; the worth of Esperanza as musician is much greater than the worth of Lillegard as musician etc. To treat Esperanza as having no more value than Lillegard (as musician) would be to treat her with under-respect. Which features impart worth, and how much, are matters of controversy.

Some (Hobbes) have held that the only worth humans have is instrumental worth. “The value of a man is his price, i.e. whatever would be given for the use of his power.”  But surely the worth of Esperanza is not a function of the uses to which she, or her abilities, can be put (she would have the same worth as musician even if she had never performed in public).  So, perhaps non-instrumental worth is what matters for respect.   Perhaps Kant is right about that. But is he right in thinking that the non-instrumental worth of humans is equal,  i. e. each person, by virtue of being a rational agent, has exactly the same worth as every other?  That idea might be appealing because we may like to think that in addition to the varying worth of persons as, say , musicians, there is an overall worth of persons simply as persons. But it is difficult to give content to the idea of the overall worth of a person.

Disagreements over whether or not we have treated a person, P, with disrespect, are differences over

   what worth P has, OR differences over

       the respect/disrespect import of our actions.

In the second case, we disagree over the fit  between our action and the worth of the person.  Suppose we agree that Bosnian women have little worth. We might still disagree as to whether or not raping them fits whatever worth they have. `Or we might disagree over what worth they have,  while agreeing on what actions fit what worth, and so forth for all combinations.


In general  we should not treat ANYTHING as having less worth than it actually has, i. e. with under-respect.  Thus a great many actions have respect/disrespect import.  Only some of them have to do with rights.  Which ones?  Those that involve taking into account the worth of persons, some social entities, and perhaps a few other things.


The only way to treat P with respect/disrespect is by bringing about states of affairs in P’s life. By treating no. 1 with respect Frank would bring about the states of affairs  in no. 1’s life in which he enjoys prize money, enhanced reputation, etc.  . Some of these states of affairs contribute positively to life, others negatively etc.  Thus THESE actions participate in two dimensions or systems, the life-goods system, and the human being system, (in which, for example, is brought about the state of affairs in which no. 1 is respected . )


What is the relation between these two ‘systems?’ Answer: the human being system always TRUMPS the life-goods system.  What else COULD we say about rights?  Well, we could say that the goods to which we have rights are (merely) BOOSTED in value. That means, we take them very seriously, get very angry when deprived of them, more so than other goods (it could mean they have very high utility).  Thus no. 1’s right to being given the award (that is the good to which he has a right) has a lot more value than, say, the prize money, the press notices, themselves (apart from their being part of the award). It is worth more than they are, separately or even taken In combinations, perhaps, worth more than  all those other goods put together.


But, there is a problem with this (utilitarian) ‘booster’ principle.  Consider Frank’s  betrayal, his breaking trust with people, by giving first place to no. 2. Taken all by itself this amounts to treating someone (no. 1) with disrespect.  But no action occurs all by itself, without accompaniments and consequences.  Now on the assumption that none of those other goods, such as no. 2’s enjoyment of $100,000, is per se a right, how could the whole package,  consisting of the breaking of trust, no. 2’s enjoyment of the cash, the enhanced career etc. fail to have the same negative respect/disrespect import that the betrayal all by itself has? Some utilitarians seem to claim that the betrayal has such enormous negative import that NO amount of life goods could outweigh it.  But for the booster principle to be distinct from the respect principle it must be the case that any act of disrespect could cease to be an act of disrespect by virtue of consequences.   A ‘pure’ version of the booster principle must allow that. P.308 (‘pure’ means ‘utilitarian all the way down’)


What is a HUMAN RIGHT? (Humans have all sorts of rights, but only some of them are called ‘human rights’)

Human right=right some human being has just by virtue of being human.

       Are there any positive rights like that? (right to an education attaches to the status of being educable as well as human etc.)

       Any benefit rights? Not many.

       Is a human right always a universal right? Cf. right to nutrition. In a general famine no one has it, since there is no one against whom one could have the right.

                Negative rights are more likely to be human rights and also universal. The right to not be tortured attaches to the status of being a human, and does so for every human. (whether it is universal is controversial. P. 316)


                Natural rights might be human rights.  Natural=not conferred (or, conferred by God)

        Standing rights are human (divine) rights. They are not conferred (ch. 12) and THEY ARE INHERENT. They inhere in a certain status – one that has a certain worth.

        Not all inherent rights are human rights. Cf. parents rights.


        Natural (not socially conferred. Possibly divinely conferred)

        Inherent (also not conferred. But may attach to some status, such as being a parent, that not all humans have)

        Human (rights attaching to each and every human. distinct from natural. Natural rights of Kings are not human rights. Rights of members of the in-group often thought of as natural, but out- group humans not included. Are there natural human rights?)


What status does x need in order to have a human right?

That means, what properties does x have to have in order to have the worth that is needed for respect?


Another way to put this: upon what properties does ‘worth’ supervene? A property P supervenes on other properties just in case no difference in those other properties means no difference in P. ‘Good’ is an example.  If x and y have all the same properties, they cannot differ in goodness.


So, upon what properties does human worth supervene. Just being genetically human?     Or are there other properties (relationships, activities) that ALL humans have that ground worth, and thus natural human rights.

What sort of property are we looking for?

We need a property (or properties) that imply something like the usual schedule of human rights (right to nutrition, to not be tortured, freedom of movement, etc.)


It could be a degreed property, so that some humans have more of it, some less.


It will give non-instrumental worth.


This worth will exceed that of any non-human animal.


If it is non-degreed, then, obviously, all humans will have it equally.  Only in that way could equality be implied by the possession of this property.


This property grounds human worth (that worth supervenes upon it). Worth implies respect. Respect implies rights. To violate rights is to undervalue, underrespect.

Could this property be connected in some way to God?

For instance, could it be a relational property, the property of being in some kind of relation to God?


Some atheists concede that without God the ideas of human rights, human dignity, infinite worth, etc cannot be grounded or defended,. since all of these are simply pale substitutes for the idea of sacredness of humans (cf. Gaita, p. 324)


Nonetheless, we will examine attempts at secular grounding.


Kant; perhaps the property in question is a capacity.


humanity’=The capacity to set ends thru reason, and to compare various ends and organize them in a system. (no non-human animal has these, he thinks. It involves freedom from impulse, ‘negative freedom’ What about Dolphins?)

Humanity is what makes a human being an end in himself, worthy of being treated as such, never as a means only.  It is non-degreed. All have it equally. All humans are thus equal in this fundamental respect. (other , degreed, properties, such as wealth, do nothing to ground human worth).

But rational capacity is also degreed, isn’t it? Some have more, some less, some more at one time, less at another,etc.  Wouldn’t more of it mean more worth, and thus, inequality?


What Kant should say is that the mere capacity for rational action grounds worth, no matter how little one uses that capacity.


Do all humans have it? Does it imply the usual human rights? Does it imply value for humans only? Does it imply non-instrumental value?

It is arguable that none of these holds.

Not all have it. Infants, those suffering from dementia etc. Not all have it even potentially. At most, all humans belong to the species that has this capacity. BUT that thinned out property does not seem sufficient to ground many human rights.

And, it is a less impressive property than actual possession of rationality; other species may actually have it (dolphins). They would come out ahead of profoundly retarded infants, e.g.


In general, - the capacities chosen are not found in ALL humans.


Dworkin’s approach fails for the same reason, though not a capacities approach.  Many humans are not ‘masterpieces’ of either nature or self creation.



Gewirth’s attempt:

1. every agent holds that the purposes for which he acts are good (really?)

2. every agent logically must hold that freedom and well being are necessary goods for him because they are necc conditions for his acting for any of his purposes; thus he must have them.

(means, they are necc for performing any purposive action whatsoever). From 2 we infer that there is a general human right to freedom. (but see W’s objections, p.337)

3. every agent must accept that he has a right to freedom and well being; not to accept this would be to accept that other agents might remove that freedom, and that he cannot do (not without giving up agency altogether, and thus becoming . . .what? a blob. )


4. I am compelled, by virtue of being a purposive agent, to think of myself as having rights to freedom and well being, and since there is nothing special about ME, I must think all such agents have such rights.


Gewirth concludes that all agents must HAVE such rights. That does not follow.


The options before us.


A theistic account of natural inherent human rights.


Imago dei?  What is it? Gen 1;26-27

In his likeness to SERVE as his image (by dominating nature)?



Are ‘likeness’ and ‘image’ just typical Hebrew parallelism?

As in v. 26 then. The point is to have dominion …as a consequence of being in the image.


The mandate to have dominion will determine which traits or capacities of a human are included in the image. Discrimination, knowledge, morality etc. (cf. Sira 17).


Is it simply having been given the mandate that elevates human worth (Locke) or is it having the ‘divine’ properties that enable dominion, or both?

In either case, if this is what gives humans the worth that that explains rights, once again, many humans will be left out.


Perhaps then the image simply consists in being a human being by nature, i.e. it is part of human nature to have reason, etc. Those who lack reason etc.  still have the nature but are malfunctioning.

Problem; those who malfunction seem to have little worth, not enough to ground rights.


Why not ground rights in that ‘nature’ and leave God out? Same problem.


Need to avoid grounding worth, thus rights, in capacities altogether.

Need a relation to God such that humans get elevated worth from it, regardless of individual capacities.


Being loved by God would be such a relation.


A case of bestowed worth.


Kinds of worth:

Worth might supervene upon aspect(s) of a thing

 Some aspects might impart instrumental worth; examples. The chain of instrumentally good aspects must terminate.


Some aspects might impart non-instrumental worth.

e.g.  a flavor. Or some aspect of a flavor, etc. This terminates in what is basically good. And intrinsically, not instrumentally, good.


What makes that basic aspect of that thing good?

Plato; participation in the form goodness itself. Not contingent. Could not exist without that relation. Is intrinsic then.


Xtian Platonism;



Humanly bestowed worth;

Relics;e .g Mt Vernon. A Rembrandt.  By treasuring the relic we honor the person.

Being appointed to an elevated position; 


Love as attachment; not love as attraction or benevolence. Why not?+-




Love of the velveteen rabbit.

Gods love of each and every human being, equally.


Rights and social entities (governments, universities, corporations etc.)


Social entities (SEs) can act. They can act justly or unjustly. They can wrong people. These are ‘count actions.’ (When UTM acts, some person or persons do(es) something that ‘counts as’ UTM doing something).

SEs, including groups, can act.


But do SEs have lives? They must have in order to have rights? (does God have a ‘life?’ Not a biological organism)

Let ‘has a life’ cover all social agents. 


SEs get rights from individuals promising etc. (linguistically generated rights) or from state action.


Things can go badly for SEs. They can be wronged. Soviet universities were wronged when faculty were constrained and courses limited by state ideology.


Entities like mountains, sculptures, etc. have no ‘life’ in any sense, and so can’t have rights. Nonetheless they should be treated with respect, etc. Here is a case of duties without rights. But the principle of correlatives still holds; IF X is the kind of thing that can have rights etc.


Animals and plants DO have lives.But are not  moral agents. Do they have rights? Consider various moral evaluations of a case of animal cruelty.

Once again, duties without rights (duties to be kind to tabby, even though tabby has no rights, since not the right kind of thing to have them).


The ‘ur principle.’ One should (ought to) treat each x with due respect (not treat x with under-respect).


should’ indicates full cognition moral obligation. The requiredness indicated by ‘should’ which is constitutive of obligation, is what respect for worth requires.  If respect for your worth requires that I treat you a certain way, then I am morally obligated to treat you that way. It is not just that it would be good to treat you that way. It must be required, in order for there to be obligation.

We must distinguish what is required from what would be good. Some very good acts go beyond what I am obliged to do. Illustrate. They are supererogatory. It seems that ANY account of moral obligation must allow for works of supererogation, at least in principle.


An account of obligation is an account that explains the requiredness  of obligations.  Explain. Thus this theory that grounds rights in respect for worth also gives an account of obligation. There are also things I might do for a person that are not required by respect for that person. Thus this theory allows for supererogation.


Are there other, competing, accounts of obligation?


 Yes. Social requirement accounts. SR accounts. Linked with divine command theory in an interesting way (gets rid of the Euthyphro problem).


Our social relations generate reasons for doing A rather than B.  Consider my relation to my father. Because of all he has done for me, because of our particular bond, I feel pressure to do what pleases him, avoid what would offend him.  I will feel pressured to do what he commands(commanding is a way for him to pressure me), and more generally whatever he wills. Not to do so would offend him, and make me feel guilty. But my father is not perfectly just, loving etc. So if he commands me to assist Nazis in rounding up Jews, it seems obvious that his command does not generate a MORAL obligation. It may be a ‘filial obligation’ but not a moral obligation.  What we need are social relations to a perfect being, (a perfect father, say) in which case the commands WOULD generate MORAL obligations. The moral obligation comes into existence at the moment when I am commanded by God.


But what is special about commands? They are one way to pressure someone. Just stating what one thinks could be another.  Why should we think that only commands generate obligations? Many things in my relation to my father, or God, might pressure me to do whatever pleases him, no matter whether he explicitly commands it. 

The result? No room for supererogation. Everything that I could do that would please God would become obligatory. Thus this account does not fit our intuitions about what obligation is.


A related problem: we think of what we are morally obligated to do as distinct from what we should do because there is a preponderance of good reasons for doing it. But the SR view is that I ought, morally, to do what I am most pressured to do (by a good etc. agent).  i.e. it collapses what I am morally required to do into what I have the most reasons to do.

Suppose the SR theorist argues that the good of pleasing God trumps all other life goods. Thus getting rid of utilitarian calculations of balance of life goods etc.  Only that good generates requirement, obligation.  But, Once again, no room for supererogation. Everything done to please God would be obligatory.


What must God be like in order for him to require us to act in those ways that are specified in what we think of as moral obligations? Good, loving. A wicked God should not be obeyed. But, what about ‘just?’ Could God be just, on the SR view? (even love must be qualified by justice)

That view claims that obligations derive from God’s commands. Humans are just when they observe their obligations by respecting others in honoring their rights. Justice depends upon rights and obligations being correlative. How then could God be just? Could he issue commands to himself? If he did then his obligations would be the result of applying pressure to himself!!

(Surely God has a ‘holy will.’ He could never need to pressure himself.)  The SR theorist cannot, thus, account for the scriptural descriptions of God as just, as being obligated by his promises, true to his covenants.

So much for SR theory (divine command version)

Can the respect theory account for ‘duties of charity?’

Seems that the principle of correlatives fails.  Duty of charity to X does NOT imply X has a right to whatever life-good he/she receives.

NOT SO.  The duty to forgive, for instance, is a ‘third party duty.’ The duty derives from a command of God, on the respect view being developed here, and failure to do what God commands violates GOD’s rights, NOT, the rights of the person whom I refuse to forgive. Illustrate.

What other sort of account of duties of charity could there be? See note p. 384.

Concluding reflections:

Some examples of my rights:

The right to

       1.Get a payment of both principle and interest on a loan

       2. Not be kicked out of the way as I walk down a sidewalk

       3. Be declared winner when I have checkmated

       4. vote by the time I’m 18

       5. have you present at noon today when you promised to be present

       6. operate a motor vehicle

       7. get married provided I meet certain requirements

       8. be spoken to politely

       9. determine whether my child attends the game tonight

       10. privacy (suitably defined)

       11. command my subjects, given that I am king.

       12. not be exposed to vulgar language against my will

       13. not be tortured for someone’s pleasure

       14.  to be obeyed by the recruits in my platoon (I am the commander).

       15.  to time off.

       16.  to eternal salvation

       17. to not be tortured

 Which of these are

       A. legal rights? B. Rights that arise from a linguistic practice? C. A social practice? D. Inherent? E. Human?

 F. Natural? G. Natural human? H. Universal? I. Moral?

J. Conferred? K. Standing?


 Which of these rights are such that, when they are violated, some person is shown under-respect?

Which are such that their violation is a moral violation?

The moral subculture (explain) of rights enables us to assess laws and practices that themselves confer rights.

Origin of the moral subculture: Hebrew/Christian. Philosophical?

If secularization should eliminate any acknowledgement of the religious roots of the moral subculture of rights, what might happen? Demise of belief in those rights? Some secular grounding? Or, is there no need for any grounding?.

when the secret police come . . .’ Rorty p. 391

Maybe natural sympathy will do it? Oh how lacking it is in so many!

CONVICTION is needed.

Questions. Mark down your answers somewhere. Only you will see them.

1. The life that is well lived is the life that goes well.

2. Eudaimonists focus on the experientially satisfying life as the content of happiness.

3. Agape is the love that confers worth on humans, according to W.

4. Rights attach to statuses.

5. universal rights could not be legal rights.

6. rights conferred by legislation are natural rights.

7. Kantian attempts to ground basic human rights in human rationality seem to leave out some humans.

8. for a eudaimonist, being treated a certain way (e.g. being beaten half to death) has ‘moral’ significance only so far as it is instrumental to living or not living ones life well.

9.  Judeao-Christian scriptures envisage the good life for a human being as the life that goes well.

10. Ancient ethical theory is almost entirely eudaimonist.

11. It is, strictly speaking, correct to say that rights are rights to things such as my house or my social security check, or to activities, such as a pleasant walk on the quad.

12. According to ‘justice as right order’ theorists, murder is wrong because it involves a violation of an objective obligation.

13. Augustine got rid of ancient eudaimonism by a return to Plato’s ethics.

14. a nutritious meal for a hungry person is a good in itself, apart from any rights anyone has.

15. Augustine emphasized the importance of compassion and thus broke with Stoicism.

16. Compassion is normally directed towards those who are not living their lives well.

17. Life and history goods are states of affairs in a person’s life that consist of certain desires being satisfied.

18.The attempt to ground all moral obligations in divine commands overlooks standing obligations.

19. Some cases of disrespect involve illocutionary acts.

20. some of our obligations are obligations to do some specific thing (help P), others are NOT (the general obligation to obey commands of legitimate authorities, for example.)

21. Natural rights are socially conferred rights.

22. The goods to which we have rights are all goods of being treated in certain ways (including being left alone).

23. It is not possible to have a legal right to something if no law grants that right.

24. Hebrew/xtian scriptures make explicit use of the language of rights.

25. a person whose rights are ignored has been wronged.

26. rights are boundary markers for our pursuit of life-goods.

27.       Stoics in particular, and other eudaimonists, downplay the moral significance of being a victim.

28. Those who deny a place for justice in the New Testament cannot account for the importance of forgiveness, human and divine, in the NT.

29. Although there is a duty that correlates with every right, it is not the case that rights are grounded in duties.

30. The property or properties upon which human worth supervene(s) must belong to all human beings, W argues.

31. The problem with all capacities approaches to an account of human worth is that people do not agree on what capacities humans have.

32. Kant’s account of human worth is a capacities approach which makes no mention of God.

33. The ancient formula stating that ‘justice is rendering to each what is due,’ is compatible with a ‘justice as inherent rights’ account of justice.

34. The UN declaration of rights included the claim that universal human rights are grounded in the need of people for happiness.

35. To refuse to forgive those who have wronged us could be to treat God with disrespect, and thus violate a right of God.



Some reminders on types of rights:

Inherent rights; rights that inhere in some status; e.g. parental rights inhere in the status ‘parent’  Human rights inhere in the status ‘human’ Inherent rights are never conferred rights, per se.

Natural rights; rights that are not socially conferred. Standing rights would have to be natural rights (why?) Some natural rights might be divinely conferred (.e.g rights of kings). But most natural rights are inherent.

Human rights; rights that attach to the status ‘human’