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Professor Sidgwick Speaking

professor Sidgwick Speaking Let's back up for a minute before we get to arguing about the welfare state. Our problem is to decide what sort of property rights can be justified and to indicate how that might be done. Along with that is a related question: what sort of government best fits with the kind of property (if any) we find justifiable. These two questions -- property and government -- go together. Answering them won't be easy.

But before we get into property rights, I think we ought to talk a little about rights in general.

Let me provide a little historical information that might be helpful. In the western tradition of moral philosophy there are several prominent threads that have all produced influential ideas on the nature of rights or justifications for rights. We have at least the following possibilities. Maybe you can think of others.

      • Natural law. This is an old tradition that has passed through many ups and downs. Some of the medieval scholastics, Thomas Aquinas for example, believed in a natural moral law. The idea of a natural moral law was later used by John Locke and is still defended by some Catholic moral philosophers today.
      • Scriptural exegesis. A large number of writers seek to base their moral and political principles on holy scripture. In the United States, that usually means the Christian Bible. Of course, Jews and Moslems could also make arguments using their own scriptures.
      • Contractarianism or social contract theory. This tradition uses a hypothetical agreement as the foundation of rights, morals or legitimate government. Locke was a contractarian and some very prominent 20th-century writers have been as well. For example, John Rawls and David Gauthier are both contractarians.
      • Utilitarianism. This tradition has been very popular for the last 200 years. Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill were well-known 19th-century utilitarians. There have also been many recent advocates such as Richard Brandt and R. M. Hare. Utilitarians argue that rights and actions are justified because they tend to maximize human welfare.
      • Non-utilitarian consequentialism. Here I would include any theory that stresses the consequences of moral rules or political institutions but does not stress maximizing welfare in the way that utilitarianism usually does.
      • Rationalism, or what we might call deontological theories. Here I would include theories that place little or no stress on consequences. They may stress the analysis of moral concepts or some other a priori approach. I would include Immanuel Kant and, more recently, Alan Gewirth.

I don't mean to suggest that you are limited to working within these traditions. If you have other ideas, that's fine. But I think these are the main materials available for us to consider.

In any case, I have asked Dee to throw herself into the fire and make a defense of strong individual rights. We all know that she is a libertarian and that rights are of crucial importance to her.

Now, remember --  this isn't a fight, it's a conversation. We don't come here to win, we come to learn. Anyone who walks out of here believing exactly what they believed when they walked in has missed the point.

I have asked Ayesha to get us started by introducing the concept of a right.



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