Human Rights and Human Well-Being

By William J. Talbott | Go to book overview

Notes

Chapter 1

1. Here I intend to be acknowledging only what seems to me obvious: that some human adults are too impaired to be accorded all the rights on my list of human rights. This does not mean that they would have no rights, only that their rights would be different. How are we to draw the line between normal and nonnormal for the purposes of assigning human rights? Ultimately, as I explain in chapter 13, I draw the line in terms of my consequentialist conception of autonomy. I note here only that, given the history of abuses in categorizing groups as less than fully human, it is extremely important to insist that anyone who categorizes another person or group as not normal, and thus not due the full complement of human rights, assumes a substantial burden of proof.

2. It should be noted that, based on Mill’s account of the writing of On Liberty in his autobiography (Mill [1873]), On Liberty was really a coauthored work. Mill’s coauthor was his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill.

3. Mill seems to be advocating absolute liberty rights when he says, “No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified” ([1859], 19). However, in other places, Mill acknowledges that “rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions … ” ([1863], 299) and goes on to list reasons why it is hard to avoid some exceptions. In any case, he himself allows exceptions to his autonomy rights—for example, he allows a limit on freedom of expression in the case in which the opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor is expressed to an angry mob outside the home of a corn dealer ([1859], 64). An even more important exception to his liberty rights is his refusal to permit slavery contracts ([1859], 115).

4. Although there are nonconsequentialists, such as Kant, who admit of no exceptions to rights (e.g., Kant [1797]), they are very much the exception among nonconsequentialists. Even the early Nozick allowed for exceptions to rights to avoid “catastrophic moral horror” (1974, 30n; see also 1981, 495).

5. In the literature, there is nothing like unanimity on what makes a normative theory consequentialist. Consequentialism is sometimes defined more narrowly than I have defined it, to require that evaluations be based on the nonmoral value of states of affairs. This is too narrow a notion for my purposes, because I want to allow for the well-being of a life to be a value of the life as a whole, without assuming that it can be decomposed into a sum of the

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