Chapter

The Concept of Rights

Rex Martin

in A System of Rights

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780198292937
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599811 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0198292937.003.0003
 The Concept of Rights

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Rights are socially established ways of acting or ways of being treated (or, alternatively, such ways as ought to be so established); more specifically, a right so understood is something that is (1) fairly determinate and that (2) can be similarly distributed on an individual basis to each and all of those who are relevantly said to be rightholders. A right is always regarded as (3) a beneficial way of acting or of being treated both for the rightholder and, more generally, for society. Thus, (4) it is or should be something socially accepted – recognized and protected in given societies, and such acceptance would be (5) deemed reasonable, even by outsiders, in that it made explanatory sense. Here the way of acting or of being treated in question could be exhibited, plausibly, as a means to, or as a part of, accomplishing some interest or perceived benefit or other good (or desirable) thing. Accordingly, (6) normative directives could be issued to others, to those who are not rightholders, and (7) further initiatives could be taken as a feature of any such successful claim to rights status. The notion of practical inference (itself a part of the theory of the explanation of action) is used to structure much of this analysis.

Rights thus understood can be ranged under three main headings: they can be liberties of action (for example, the freedom to travel) but also avoidances of injury (such as the injury of bodily harm) or even the receipt of services (including such things as public schooling, retirement benefits, and medical care).

Keywords: action; benefit; injury; normative directives; practical inference; rights; services; social acceptance

Chapter.  14500 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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