2.2.5 Duties and rights

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Unit 2 Contents

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The sections in the Compendium you read just now make clear that human dignity is something all humans have equally, regardless of gender or disability – or any other differentiating aspect of humanness.  It follows from this that we all must respect others’ human dignity in all the various relationships and activities in which we participate.  In other words, recognition of human dignity generates a moral duty to act towards one another in ways that respect that dignity.  For example, the Church holds that we have a duty not to assault, or lie to, or enslave anyone – because to do so would not be consistent with respect for their dignity.

To put this more fully: if we, male and female, are together to exercise dominion on God’s behalf in creation, our ways of relating with one another must be consistent with this shared task.  This God-given role is a co-operative one and so we have duties to relate to one another in ways that make that co-operation possible, rather than block or nullify it.

But we need to recognize now the other side of the coin of talking about the duties we owe to one another.  This is that others have rights.

‘Duties’ and ‘rights’ are correlative terms.  This means that when we talk about duties to others we are also, at the same time, talking about rights that others have.  (There may be a very few exceptions to this, but we need not be diverted by these here.)  What are rights?  If there is someone, David, who has a duty to ensure y and z for Rachel – for example, that Rachel has freedom to worship and access to fresh drinking water – then we may say that Rachel has rights to these things.  In other words, if one person has a duty to another, this person has a corresponding right.  Groups of people also can have both duties and rights.  For example, all the citizens of the UK have a duty not to stop me going to worship in a church or a mosque.  This means I have a right to do this.

More fully and precisely, the language of duties and rights works as set out below.

Note: If the zoom function for your screen is not at 100%, the following might appear misaligned.

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If agent ‘D’, David, has

  a duty or obligation                            to                          agent ‘R’, Rachel,

then R has a right.

 

The duty D has requires him

  either

not to act, i.e., to leave alone,

  a duty of non-interference,     which means R has     a ‘freedom right’

(e.g., the ‘basic freedoms’ of belief, speech, movement, association, etc.)

  or

positively to act, to do something

for someone that benefits them,

  a duty of provision,                   which means R has      a ‘benefit right’

(e.g., economic rights to enough food to live or to a minimum wage for work done).

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As this shows, there are two main categories of rights: ‘freedom rights’ and ‘benefit rights’.  Unit 7 gives the opportunity to look at these more fully (7.1.3).  ‘Freedom rights’ are often called ‘negative rights’ because the corresponding duty is one of non-interference.  ‘Benefit rights’ are called ‘positive rights’ because they require the person with the duty actually to do something.

Given what CST says about human dignity, it insists that human beings have a wide range of both duties and rights. We shall give attention to some of these in a number of the later units of this module, especially in Unit 7.  As preparation for this, read now what the Compendium says in its section headed ‘Human Rights’.

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Reading (5pp)

Compendium, ##152-159 (Chap. 3, sec. IV)

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The language of rights, on which the Compendium mainly focuses, is certainly not without potential problems.  For example, is it inherently individualistic or selfish to appeal to a person’s rights?  What about if different duties or rights appear to conflict?  As we are only introducing the main principles in this unit, we shall not consider such questions here – they will come up again in Unit 7. In fact, neither of those questions raises a fundamental problem, as we shall see there.

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End of 2.2.5

Go to 2.2.6 Questions for discussion half way through unit

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