Many people, especially those in Western style democracies, believe in rights. It is often accepted that people have rights that protect them and even entitle them to certain things. It is generally accepted that such rights must be respected under most conditions.
This method is involves assessing the action, policy, etc. in terms of whether it is in accord with such rights. This method is based on rights theory-the view that people and perhaps other beings have moral rights. Thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes have put forth theories of rights.
While rights theories have a great deal of appeal, they are also subject to debate. There are numerous criticisms of particular rights as well as rights theory in general.
While they often overlap, it is important not to confuse moral rights with legal rights. Law and morality are distinct areas, although arguments can be made that link moral rights and legal rights. In order to do this, the method of mixing norms can be employed.
There are two variations on this method. Each has three general steps.
Step 1: Argue for right Y.
Step 2: Argue that. X violates (or does not violate) right Y.
Step 3: Conclude that X is not morally acceptable (or is acceptable).
Step 1: Argue for right Y.
Step 2: Argue that. X is required by right Y.
Step 3: Conclude that X is morally obligatory.
This method generally requires providing the audience with a reason (argument) that supports the right. In some cases this might involve using another method or a moral theory. One way to argue for a right is to use an existing moral theory that argues for the right you need. For example, an argument involving a right to liberty could be based on John Locke’s theory. Another way to do this is to use a right that has been established in another area, such as law, and use mixing norms to argue that it should be a moral right as well. For example, you might argue from the legal right of the free press to a moral right against censorship.
Censorship has often been proposed to protect people from the alleged harms of violent and sexually explicit media. Censorship can be argued against by arguing that people have a right to freedom of expression. If this right can be established, it can be concluded that such censorship is not acceptable.
There are a variety of ways to respond to this method. The first is by arguing against there being such a right or by arguing that the right is incorrectly applied. . If the right is successfully attacked, then the argument is undercut. The type of attack varies depending on the right and the circumstances. It might be argued that the right is not a legitimate right. For example, if someone makes an argument based on an alleged right granting total freedom of expression, then this could be countered by arguing that there is no such total right. It might also be argued that a more important right overrides the right. For example, someone might argue against abortion rights by arguing that the right to make choices is overridden by the right to life.
A second way to reply is to use an appeal to consequences. In this it would be argued that the consequences morally override the right. For example, consider the matter of censorship. While it is generally accepted that people have a right to free expression, it is also accepted that this right is not absolute-a person has no right to slander another. While censorship would run against the right of free expression, the harms produced by certain works justify censoring them, just as it would be justified to quiet a person yelling “fire” in a crowded, but fire-free theatre.
A third way of replying is to use the appeal to rules method. It can be argued that a moral rule overrides the right in question. For example, people are supposed to have a right to life and property, but they can be justly deprived of them by a rule of due punishment.
A fourth way is to use some other method of moral reasoning to counter the appeal to the right.
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