Duty vs. Rights


“We become Just, by doing Just acts; Temperate, by doing Temperate acts,” –Aristotle.



In Human Rights, according to H.J. McCloskey, a right may be an entitlement to do, to enjoy, to demand, to have done for us. Rights may be to act, to exist,or to demand. He went on to describe duties, as something negative, imposed on another, and that cannot be denied, if in fact, the another individual has a valid right under his claim. In this way, Rights and Duty are forever entwined always to impose on one another. An example in real life would be my right, given by the state, to Marry. Another cannot deny me my inalienable right, and therefore has a duty to perform said task, or request. Or just stand out of the way and not impede the process. Whichever the case might be. 

A Contract is an agreement between two parties. We enter into contracts every day, when we buy a house, car, get married, etc. Societies are controlled by governments. The general idea is that people benefit from living together in a group, or society governed by a body with rules and laws. When you live in society, you give up certain Rights (or freedoms), like the right to kill someone without punishment, in exchange for protection against another’s trespass of the law against you. People enter into an unspoken Social Contract every time they move into a new place. There are new people, new rules, and new processes.  


The ’General Will’ is a new type of Social Contract. The idea of the ‘General Will’ was constructed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This new idea was intended to ensure that citizens did not feel like they had to make decisions, based off of what the majority wants. The majority does not rule. All decisions that are made should not be made based on individual desires. Instead, Rousseau offers that decisions should be made based on what the citizens feel is best for the community. Further, the theory follows with the assertion that everyone is born inherently ‘good,' and that selfish behavior and vanity are learned. Therefore, ‘General Will’ works because there is no coercion.

                        For example, if one citizen believes that there should be a raise in the minimum wage in their community so that there can be an economic stimulus growth. On the other hand, and another citizen is in conflict with this idea because they own a company and have many employees; therefore this would cost them a lot of money. The second citizen is acting out of self-interest, by worrying about their personal consequences, while the first is practicing the ‘General Will’ by placing aside their personal beliefs. 



It reminds me of the television series Star Trek, where there is a character named “Spock,” and he is of a race called Vulcans. This race is ruled by logic and not emotions, and so he is always in some way or another quoting empirical philosophy and logic in his decisions. There are many episodes where he quotes the line “The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few,” which in itself is a Consequentialist Perspective.

1 comment

  • Oliver Eipper

    Oliver Eipper

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