Are rights compossible, and does it matter whether they are?

Essay by suzannekhawUniversity, Master'sB-, May 2006

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Before we can begin any debate on the above question, it is vital to first briefly define the terminology used so as to lay a foundation upon which we can build our arguments.


Firstly, what are rights? The construction of rights involves three components; namely a subject, an object and a content. The subject, or right-holder, is identified as the agent(s) that holds the right. On the other hand, there must be an object, or duty-bearer, who is identified as the agent(s) who may owe a certain duty to the subject. Finally, the content indicates the action, or in certain cases the omission of an action, that must be executed by either the subject, the object, or both.

For example, if one has a the right to free speech, the subject is the agent that is allowed to speak freely; the object is the agent that has a duty not to silence the subject, and the content is the action of speaking freely.

For the benefit of further debate, it is also useful to distinguish between two types of rights, namely positive and negative rights. Positive rights, also known as claim-rights, are rights whose content is an action or set of actions that the object owes the subject and therefore the subject can expect from the object. For instance, a right to getting back a pen one has lent to a friend is a positive right. Alternatively, negative rights, or liberty rights, is an action or set of action that the subject does not have to do, and the object has the duty not to force the subject to do it. An example will be one's right to liberty; one is free to not raw beef, and no one should be allowed to force the subject to eat...