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The Value and Limits of Rights: A Reply

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Peter Jones



I reply to each of the contributions in this issue. I agree with much that Hillel Steiner argues, especially his insistence that the associated ideas of impartiality and discontinuity are crucial to dealing satisfactorily with a diversity of competing claims. I am, however, less willing to conceive provision for that diversity as the role, rather than a role, that we should ascribe to rights. I question the success of David Miller’s endeavour to provide a unified justification of human rights grounded in the concept of need. It is the notion of a minimally decent human life, rather than need itself, that does most of the justificatory work in Miller’s argument and, arguably, that notion does not deliver a genuinely unitary account of human rights. I concede the case for state funding of opera and the arts more generally to John Horton’s argument, but defend neutralism, and its associated distinction between the right and the good, as a strategy for dealing with diversity, including cultural diversity. I resist Richard Bellamy’s attempt to ground all basic rights in democracy and suggest that his argument relies upon idealized assumptions about the functioning of democracy. I share much of his objection to substituting judicial for political decision-making but argue that a strong moral commitment to rights need not imply a shift in power from democratic processes to courts. I endorse Albert Weale’s argument for favouring a beneficial design approach over a rights approach to healthcare and to many other social goods. Rights should not monopolize our moral and political thinking.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jones P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy

Year: 2012

Volume: 15

Issue: 4

Pages: 495-516

Print publication date: 07/08/2012

Date deposited: 31/05/2012

ISSN (print): 1369-8230

ISSN (electronic): 1743-8772

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/13698230.2012.699400


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