Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Comment on Flathman Difficulties With Flathman's Moderation Thesis

Charles R. Beitza1

a1 Political Science, Swarthmore College

Professor Flathman's main aim in this interesting paper is to set forth what we might call the “moderation thesis.” It holds that there may be occasions when the best thing to do, all things considered, is to violate a right – at least if the violation takes the form of what Flathman calls “civil encroachment” or “civil non-enforcement.” Moreover, it would be desirable, in a society whose practices include rights, for this belief to be generally accepted, so that those who engaged with good reason in “civil encroachment” would receive the sympathetic support of the community.

Let me begin by trying to explain the source of the problem to which this thesis is a response. As Flathman notes, rights have a discretionary character: if I have a right to do or to have something, it is up to me whether to do it or to have it. Having a right, I am entitled to make a choice. Since we cannot say, in advance, what choice I will make, we cannot say, in advance, what will be the state of the world after I make it. But since it seems plain that some states of the world are more desirable than others, it will always be possible that the consequences of my choice will be worse, on the whole, than the consequences of some other choice that I might have made but did not. To moderate rights is apparently to act in ways that redress or compensate for the undesirable results of their exercise.