Critical Notices/Etudes critiques

Consequentialist Rights: L. W. Sumner's The Moral Foundation of Rights*

David Coppa1

a1 Simon Fraser University

It is commonplace to criticize utilitarianism on the ground that it does not take moral rights seriously; that it cannot account for the rights we have, and for their role in constraining our pursuit of the overall good. Wayne Sumner does not directly address this criticism in The Moral Foundation of Rights. Instead he attempts to show that consequentialism can defeat nihilism about rights: the view that there are no moral rights at all.


* This paper was presented to the annual Congress of the Canadian Philosophical Association, held at Windsor, May 29, 1988. The occasion was a symposium on L. W. Sumner's The Moral Foundation of Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press, 1987). I would like to thank Wayne Sumner for his response on that occasion, which helped me to focus my argument. References to his book will generally be placed in parentheses in the text.