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On Norman Wilde’s “The Meaning of Rights”

Abstract : In "The Meaning of Rights," Norman Wilde offers an original account of rights, still of interest. Rights, he contends, are possessed by an individual by virtue of the social function she fulfills. It is because individuals belong to a common social order, in which each has her part to play, that they are "entitled to the conditions necessary for playing it" [288]. This approach allows for a nuanced view, according to which rights are neither absolutely inherent to the individual nor entirely dependent on social conventions. But is such a function-based justification of rights plausible? A right is a claim to exemption from interference (or to aid) in the exercise of a power to do. As such, it presupposes the existence of a social order giving significance to the claim: the exemption (or the aid) must be demanded of someone. Rights only have meaning, therefore, "within the sphere of social relations" [288]. Human beings form associations to pursue shared purposes, and their organization gradually creates permanent social structures, such as schools, churches, or unions. These institutions operate as programs of work, assigning a function to each of their members and defining what they can do. To belong to an institution is "to have committed one's self to a scheme of life involving specific duties and specific rights" [285]. What makes a right not only meaningful, but justified, then, is that the exemption (or the aid)
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Submitted on : Friday, February 14, 2020 - 11:53:10 AM
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2014 - Girard, Charles - On No...
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Charles Girard. On Norman Wilde’s “The Meaning of Rights”. Ethics, University of Chicago Press, 2015, 125 (2), pp.543-545. ⟨10.1086/678381⟩. ⟨hal-01758579⟩



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