Rights Thinking

Evan Simpsona1

a1 McMaster University

Judgments about right are normally circumscribed and balanced by other considerations but it is possible to imagine ‘rights thinking’ as occurring without any such admixture. This pure rights thinking is characterized by several distinctive features. First, resentment, respect, and other passions of rectitude overrule sympathetic feelings of concern and compassion, love and affection. One responds simply as justice demands, never allowing extraneous factors to interfere with satisfaction of this moral ideal. Second, when claims of rights collide with personal attachments or calculations of benefit, the right systematically prevails. For example, rights thinking resists assertions presented to justify breaking promises to friends for their supposed greater good. Third, although rights entail obligations to their holders, responsibilities to others extend no further than these entailments within pure rights thinking. No general obligation of benevolence is recognized, for example, since no one in particular has a right to one's benevolence. Hence, fourth, as well as entailing moral protections for their holders and defining centres of independent agency, the perception of rights also promotes one's fundamental separateness from others.