The Proliferation of Rights: Moral Progress or Empty Rhetoric?

The Proliferation of Rights: Moral Progress or Empty Rhetoric?

The Proliferation of Rights: Moral Progress or Empty Rhetoric?

The Proliferation of Rights: Moral Progress or Empty Rhetoric?

Synopsis

The Proliferation of Rights explores how the assertion of rights has expanded dramatically since World War II. Carl Wellman illuminates for the reader the historical developments in each of the major categories of rights, including human rights, civil rights, women's rights, patient rights, & animal rights. He concludes by assessing where this proliferation has been legitimate & helpful, cases where it has been illusory & unproductive, & alternatives to the appeal to rights. Contents: The Development of Human Rights. The Civil Rights Movement. Women's Rights & Feminist Theory. The Animal Rights Debate. New Medical Rights.

Excerpt


Some Critical Questions

Early in the twentieth century, most jurists and moral philosophers assumed that rights and duties were logically correlative. Just as the creditor's right to be repaid the borrowed sum implies the debtor's duty to repay the amount borrowed, so a father's duty to provide for the needs of his child implies the child's right to financial support from her father. But in 1930, W. D. Ross, a moral philosopher who distinguished radically between the moral rightness of an act and the moral goodness of an action, argued against this assumption by pointing out that we have both moral and legal duties to treat animals humanely. These are duties we owe to the animals, not to our fellow human beings, because they are grounded primarily on our consideration for the feelings of the animals themselves. These duties cannot, however, logically imply any correlative rights of the animals, because we mean by a right something that can be justly claimed, and nonhuman animals are incapable of making any claim to humane treatment from us. As one would expect, this argument was widely accepted in the 1930s as a convincing refutation of the correlation of rights and duties. Almost all philosophers and jurists thought it obvious that animals could be said to have moral rights only in some metaphorical sense.

Today many vegetarians argue that our practice of raising animals merely to gratify our appetite for meat is grossly immoral because slaughtering cattle, sheep, and pigs violates their fundamental moral right to life. Some moral reformers argue seriously that zoos ought not to exist, because confining wild animals in cages or fenced areas violates their moral right to liberty. Environmentalists have even gone so far as to argue that trees and woodlands, such as giant redwoods and virgin forests, can and ought to . . .

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