Waldron - A Right to Do Wrong

Notes on the reading


Waldron has a relatively simple, persuasive point to make: a person can have a right that others not interfere with his behavior even if it includes doing things that are wrong.

The middle sections (2-4) loop back over this point in the course of showing that other philosophers have written things that conflict with this simple point. They add detail, but are less important.

The last section advances what I called his strong claim, namely, that there must be a right to do wrong, given the nature of rights. That is stronger than what I called the weaker claim, that there can be a right to do wrong.

Section by section

  1. Introduction: examples that illustrate the point, overview of what the paper will do.
  2. Opponents: those who have denied that there could be a right to do wrong, why their views are not necessarily correct.
  3. Alternative analysis: the apparent right to do wrong in the examples (first section) is just a prima facie right or a prima facie wrong. It isn’t clear what “prima facie” means, but it seems to be something along the lines of “there seems to be a right (or the act seems to be wrong) but whether there really is a right (or whether the act really is wrong) has yet to be determined.” The details probably don’t matter. Waldron persuasively denies that this is a satisfying analysis of the examples since they seem to involve genuine rights to do things that are genuinely wrong.
  4. Another opponent: those who hold that having a right to do something makes doing it reasonable as opposed to capricious or unjustified and, hence, not wrong. Waldron notes that having a right to do something cannot itself make it reasonable to do it because, among other things, rights don’t give one a reason to do anything, just permission.
  5. Waldron’s strong claim: given the nature of rights, especially what he calls their generality, there must be a right to do wrong.