History and Analysis

Class notes for 29 September

Main points

Rights, as people think of them today, are things that people have and can use. Lawyers have developed a series of distinctions that help to explain the different ways that one could have or use a right.

Specifically, we can distinguish among four elements that are often combined in the rights that we commonly speak of: liberties, claims, immunities, and powers.

Our conception of rights is heavily influenced by legal thinking. But moral rights and legal rights are different. For example, there can be a conflict between one’s moral rights and the law of a particular society.

We discussed a subtle, apparently structural, difference between moral and legal rights. It seems that there can be a moral right to do what is morally wrong: I can have a moral claim right to do what I have no moral liberty to do. By contrast, it is generally the case that there are no legal claim rights that one lacks the legal liberty to exercise.

Waldron’s strong and weak claims

I wanted to read Waldron’s essay because I thought that his weak claim, that it is possible for there to be such a thing as a right to do wrong, nicely illustrated the distinction between claim rights (others have corresponding duties that the person with the right can claim) and liberties (the person with the right has no relevant duty).

I also think that his strong claim, that there must be a right to do wrong, given the nature of rights, is interesting, even though it is not necessary for our purposes.

I said that I do not think that it logically follows from the nature of rights that there must be a right to do wrong. But, at the same time, I think it is valuable that we have the right to do wrong.