up for a minute before we get to arguing about
the welfare state. Our problem is to decide what
sort of property rights can be justified and to
indicate how that might be done. Along with that
is a related question: what sort of government
best fits with the kind of property (if any) we
find justifiable. These two questions --
property and government -- go together.
Answering them won't be easy.
But before we get into
property rights, I think we ought to talk a
little about rights in general.
Let me provide a little historical information
that might be helpful. In the western tradition
of moral philosophy there are several prominent
threads that have all produced influential ideas
on the nature of rights or justifications for
rights. We have at least the following
possibilities. Maybe you can think of others.
- Natural law. This is
an old tradition that has passed through
many ups and downs. Some of the medieval
scholastics, Thomas Aquinas for example,
believed in a natural moral law. The idea
of a natural moral law was later used by
John Locke and is still defended by some
Catholic moral philosophers today.
- Scriptural exegesis.
A large number of writers seek to base
their moral and political principles on
holy scripture. In the United States, that
usually means the Christian Bible.
Of course, Jews and Moslems could also
make arguments using their own scriptures.
- Contractarianism or social
contract theory. This tradition
uses a hypothetical agreement as the
foundation of rights, morals or legitimate
government. Locke was a contractarian and
some very prominent 20th-century writers
have been as well. For example, John Rawls
and David Gauthier are both
- Utilitarianism. This
tradition has been very popular for the
last 200 years. Jeremy Bentham, James
Mill, and John Stuart Mill were well-known
19th-century utilitarians. There have also
been many recent advocates such as Richard
Brandt and R. M. Hare. Utilitarians argue
that rights and actions are justified
because they tend to maximize human
consequentialism. Here I would
include any theory that stresses the
consequences of moral rules or political
institutions but does not stress
maximizing welfare in the way that
utilitarianism usually does.
- Rationalism, or what
we might call deontological
theories. Here I would include
theories that place little or no stress on
consequences. They may stress the analysis
of moral concepts or some other a priori
approach. I would include Immanuel Kant
and, more recently, Alan Gewirth.
I don't mean to suggest that you are limited to
working within these traditions. If you have
other ideas, that's fine. But I think these are
the main materials available for us to consider.
In any case, I have asked Dee to throw herself
into the fire and make a defense of strong
individual rights. We all know that she is a
libertarian and that rights are of crucial
importance to her.
Now, remember -- this isn't a fight, it's
a conversation. We don't come here to win,
we come to learn. Anyone who walks out of here
believing exactly what they believed when they
walked in has missed the point.
I have asked Ayesha to get us started by
introducing the concept of a right.