More On Positive Rights

Chris Bertram jumps into the negative rights/positive rights debate. With reference to Allen Buchanan, Bertram argues that it is implausible to claim that positive rights will lead to ?unacceptably frequent and severe disruptions of individuals? activities as rational planners or to intrusions that are intuitively unjust.? Further, Bertram tries to shift the burden of proof onto libertarians because "morality is most fundamentally concerned with avoiding states of affairs that are harmful for individuals." I will address the second claim first.

This seems to ignore the distinction between consequentialism and deontology. A deontological conception of rights is not "fundamentally concerned with avoiding states of affairs that are harmful for individuals"; a consequentialist conception is.

But even conceding that point, my favorite answer to why "people have a right not to be harmed but no right to the aid or assistance that will prevent them from being harmed" is to use Peter Singer's world poverty argument against him.

Action is as good an indicator of belief as any, and based on my observation that nearly everyone, including Peter Singer, refuses to give away all of their wealth above and beyond the minimum necessary to sustain themselves in order to feed starving children in third-world countries, I conclude that most of us do not in fact believe we have any such obligation.

Of course, we could all be wrong, just like majorities have been wrong in the past with regard to slavery, women's rights, etc. I grant that possibility, but it should make us a bit skeptical of any claims to the contrary, since even its advocates don't live up to the advocated standards.

Further, this should dispel any notion that there is "right to be saved from a situation of great potential harm by someone who can do so without unreasonable cost or risk to themselves."

Suppose it only costs $20 to save a starving child from a situation of great potential harm. Surely $20 is not an unreasonable cost (and if it is, simply lower the amount to $2 or $0.02). Alas, of course, there is not merely one starving child but millions of them. If we have an ethical obligation to donate $20 (or $2 or $0.02) to save the life of a starving child, then why do we not also have an ethical obligation to give away all of our wealth above and beyond the minimum necessary to sustain ourselves? But surely this would require "unacceptably frequent and severe disruptions of individuals? activities as rational planners or to intrusions that are intuitively unjust."

Hence, it is not implausible to believe that positive rights would lead to such an unacceptable framework if taken to their logical conclusions.

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Why am I reminded of Bertram

Why am I reminded of Bertram Scudder?