I have a disinclination, like Burke, to discuss issues in terms of abstract rights — that ‘Serbonian bog where armies whole have sunk’ — unless the context manifestly makes that type of language appropriate. The language of rights — outside, of course, the legal sphere, is a very specific sort of language within normative discourse. There are countless things that are right and wrong where there is no need to have recourse to the specific language of rights to make the point. It is wrong, for instance, for people to break their promises to us, to tell us lies, and to be cruel to us. But it seems unnecessary to construct a case for enjoying general or special rights in these spheres. Similarly, to take one of Stuart Brown’s preoccupations, indoctrination is wrong in that it shows lack of respect for persons. I cannot see that it helps the case to conjure up a general or special right not to be indoctrinated. Indeed recourse to rights, as at several points in this symposium, is often a case of obscurum per obscurius — rather like the proliferation, in the recent literature, of ‘welfare rights’ that are not freedoms. In many cases it would be more straightforward just to say that people ought to have various kinds of provision rather than to create a new class of rights.
KeywordsCommon Good Academic Freedom Central Case Ordinary Citizen Specific Sort
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