Tag Archives: Rights

OPR VI.18 Jurisdictional Rights

At the end of Chapter 17 we saw that the argument from abstraction cannot provide the determinate moral rules that are needed for social coordination.  Members of the public are left with a set of optimal eligible interpretations of the abstract rights presented in Chapter 17.  In Chapter 18 we see how that set can be further narrowed.

Gaus begins with a discussion of the function of rights and an attack on the common taxonomy of choice vs. interest theories of rights.  Rather than give a theory of the necessary conditions of something being a right, Gaus is concerned with what he calls the jurisdictional function of rights.  Gaus’ concern with rights is practical; he is concerned with what rights do, not with giving a theory that specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions of rights.

In so many places in OPR, we have seen Gaus put aside the traditional metaphysical and epistemological concerns with reasons, morality, and responsibility to focus on the practical problems that arise from an attempt to make sense of individual reason and social morality.  The distinctiveness of Baier-Strawson view (which should really be just called the Gaus view) is primarily this focus on the essentially practical nature of the philosophical enterprise.

Gaus sees rights as a solution to the practical problem of the incommensurability of values.  How is it possible to find a collective choice or social agreement between persons when their fundamental values so often conflict?  In the last section we saw that one solution may be to abstract or idealize to find out what common standards we share, but as we have seen, this solution only has limited usefulness.  Another solution is to “partition the moral space” (372) so that each individual is the rightful decision maker in his or her own defined sphere.  In effect, why not privatize social morality in a publicly justified way so that not all value questions are open to social choice?  In each individual’s sphere, they are sovereign and others may not  override their decisions.

The contrast to what might be called the devolution of moral authority is what Gaus calls the centralizing response.  The centralizing response hold that when faced with evaluative diversity, the proper response is look to commonalities in values to try to regulate and organize social morality with an overarching standard.  The problem with this solution to the problem of diversity is that, as we saw in the last section, it is indeterminate.  In contrast, by devolving moral authority each individual has a determinate authority over a determinate sphere.  This solves the problem of seeking a common standard for the basis of public moral authority by relocating that authority in the rules of devolution rather than in the substantive claims of public moral authority itself.

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