Claims and self-respect Notes for February 15

Main points

We went over Feinberg’s Nowheresville thought experiment. This was supposed to show two things.

  1. What is distinctive about rights is that they enable people to make claims.
  2. Rights are valuable because the ability to make claims is necessary for self-respect.

I challenged the second point by coming up with something that is very close to claiming while, nonetheless, being different: criticizing. I said that I didn’t see why the ability to criticize wouldn’t be good enough for self-respect.

Our friend, the power

Powers kept getting in our way as we tried to understand Nowheresville.

For instance, it was difficult to understand how a legislature could create rules unless we thought it had the power to do so. Also, how are contracts made without powers? I confess that I don’t know how these details about Nowheresville are supposed to work.

Feinberg was focused mainly on claim rights. He was trying to show that rights are not merely redundant with duties and that is only an issue for claim rights.

At least one kind of power was clearly involved in Feinberg’s presentation. It is the power to control others’ duties by claiming or waiving them. The people in Nowheresville lack that.

In a way, my criticism amounted to this. “Why do the people in Nowheresville need to have that power in order to have self-respect?”

Next time, I’m going to say that there are quite a few important rights that either lack this power or for which this power is not terribly important.

This page was written by Michael Green for Topics in Social and Political Philosophy: Human Rights, Philosophy 185s, Spring 2007.
Name of website