Sunday, December 26, 2010

Just A thought About Rights Via Don Boudreaux

Don Boudreaux (26 Dec) in Cafe Hayek (HERE): writes to the Boston Globe and discusses which rights are legitimate and which are not.

“The rights that Americans wisely cherish as being essential for a free society require only the refraining from action. Your right to speak freely requires me simply not to stop you from speaking; it does not require me to supply your megaphone.

This is worth thinking about, which I believe is Boudreaux’s intentions in his brilliant, short letters to US media.

In Moral Sentiments Adam Smith, discusses theories of moral sentiments from many predecessors, which often confuses commentators who do not (or cannot) distinguish between what were Smith’s views and what were somebody else’s from the many brilliant philosophers he considered his students should know about.

Remember, his Theory of Moral Sentiments was based on his Glasgow University lectures. Those who forget this sometimes attribute to him ideas that were not necessarily his own. There are many dialogues flowing through TMS.

Here is one of them:

In one sense we are said to do justice to our neighbour when we abstain from doing him positive harm, and do not directly hurt him, either in his person, or in his estate, or in his reputation” (TMS VII.ii.1.9: 269).

The virtue of justice is a negative virtue that is practised by avoiding its breaches, unlike positive virtues, like the behaviours of beneficence and benevolence, which should be practised.

Just a thought.



Blogger Gevin Shaw said...

The discussion about the intersection of rights and justice, and whether an intolerable situation brought on by inaction is just or not, is…large. I will, for the moment, accept your premise that Boudreaux's hyperbole (about the straw man of the results of "free health care for all" that he himself inserted in the discussion) is meant to encourage thought on the subject.

Boudreaux's distinction between positive and negative rights (and Smith's "in one sense" narrow view of justice) does not lead us very far along the path of either justice or of a free society. We are not born with the most basic essential for a free society: the right to vote. That right has had to be positively awarded by courts and the voters of the United States, in turn, to "everyone" (who was male and had property); to blacks; the poor; women; the illiterate; 18, 19, and 20 year olds.

The right to speech mentioned by Boudreaux requires more than "me simply not to stop you from speaking." The mere right to speech was deemed inadequate by the writers of the Constitution, who not only set up the Post Office, but then instituted significant subsidies for the delivery of the newspapers they saw as essential to the dissemination of the ideas and the discussions necessary for an informed electorate. No one needs to provide a platform for an opposing view as long as We provide it. A right that cannot be exercised is no right at all.

In avoiding the political morass of the health care debate, I will only mention that before property or even liberty comes life and the health that it requires. The greater legitimacy granted to property, over liberty specifically, by a section of society, is far fresher than the manipulative misrepresentation of the invisible hand metaphor.

10:46 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I can go along with you at least part of the way, but on the issue of the 'right to vote', I should think that with some many evident demonstrations of the flimsy 'right to vote' in the world today - the fact that so many cruel dictatorships practice a 'right to vote' in what are patently fraudulent exercises - Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Iraq and Pakistan.

Hence, on pragmatic grounds, I conclude the Liberty is more important than so-called democracy.

Freedom of speech is essential to Liberty.

1:28 pm  

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