Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rights aren't Recommendations

A common response to moral censure is to insist that one had "a right" to act as they did. But that just means that they were at liberty to do it, which may never have been in dispute. We may all agree that the option was on the table, and just as well, but the question is whether it's the option one should have chosen. Note that your rights speak to the moral status of others' actions, not your own. From the mere fact that it would be wrong for others to obstruct you from doing X, it does not follow that X is something you should do.

So it is odd to see Cato VP David Boaz write:
Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."

They're wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss.

I also have a right to drop out of school and spend all day getting drunk and watching TV, but that doesn't mean it's a good way for me to live my life, nor that I wouldn't be open to censure for doing so. One might reasonably object to communitarian ideals, I suppose, but this would require philosophical resources that go beyond mere 'rights', to elucidate a positive conception of the good that supports individual interests and personal projects.

On any sane view, some ways of life are going to be better than others. So it's at least possible that "our normal lives are not good enough". That's going to depend on (1) your vision of the good life; and (2) how well 'normal lives' in our society are living up to this ideal. How we have a right to live is nothing to do with it.

Follow-up: Confusing 'Collectivism'

1 comment:

  1. Seriously. I'm getting really sick of that argumentative technique. I'm putting this post in my digital pocket, to be retrieved & shared as needed.


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