Economics Dictionary of Arguments

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Rights: Rights in a society are the fundamental freedoms and entitlements that belong to every person, regardless of their race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. They are essential for human dignity and they enable people to live freely and participate in society. See also Human rights, Fundamental rights, Society, Justice, Jurisdiction, Law, Laws, Justice, Participation.
Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Concept Summary/Quotes Sources

Consequentialism on Rights - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 107
Rights/Consequentialism/Gaus: L. W. Sumner (1987)(1) presents an especially influential consequentialist case for rights. Sumner recognizes the paradoxical air of a thoroughly consequentialist argument for rights: in so far as the consequentialist seeks to maximize achievement of a certain goal, and rights are a constraint on the ways goals are achieved, it looks as if the consequentialist must argue that the best way to achieve the goal is to constrain our efforts to achieve it. The key to resolving this paradox, says Sumner, is to distinguish consequentialism as a theory of moral justification from the preferred theory of moral decision-making (1987(1): 179) or, we might say, consequentialism as a theory of evaluation from a theory of deliberation. This argument for rights consequentialism (or, more generally, rule consequentialism) argues that there is no easy transition from the claim that the right action is that which maximizes good consequences to the claim that the best decision procedure is to perform that action which one thinks has the best consequences.
Sidgwick: This type of argument was advanced by Sidgwick (1962(2): 489), who accepted that utilitarianism may be self-effacing, in the sense that it could instruct us not to encourage its use as a theory for making decisions. It may be better, he argued, if many people are guided by common sense morality.
VsSidgwick/VsSumner: Two problems confront such a view.
1) First, it is often not realized that rule utilitarianism puts more, not less, computational burdens on those devising the system of rules.
2) Second, by divorcing utilitarianism as a standard of evaluation from its role as a standard of deliberation, we invite the sort of moral elitism that attracted Sidgwick: perhaps hoi polloi should be restricted to non-utilitarian reasoning, but the class of excellent calculators may be able to better promote utility by employing utilitarianism as a method of deliberation (1962(2): 489ff). Drawing inspiration from Sidgwick, Robert E. Goodin (1995(3): ch. 4) has recently defended ‘government house’ utilitarianism, which casts utilitarianism as a ‘public philosophy’ to be employed by policy-makers, rather than a guide to individual conduct.

1. Sumner, L. W. (1987) The Moral Foundations of Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2. Sidgwick, Henry (1962) The Methods of Ethics, 7th edn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. Goodin, Robert E. (1995) Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gaus, Gerald F. 2004. „The Diversity of Comprehensive Liberalisms.“ In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004

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