Sunday, March 1, 2009


Dworkin’s article was much easier for me to read. I’m not sure if it was simply my mind playing tricks on me because it was shorter or because the prose was less dense, but I suspect it was the latter. Either way, I enjoyed the article (despite his rampant use of double negatives).

I particularly liked Dworkin’s way of conceptualizing rights. The idea of a right as a trump seems to me to be a fairly easy-to-understand way to define a right. But, at the same time, the conception may become a bit strained when one begins to talk about rights that can be overridden. In other words, I think that the idea of the right as a trump works well with absolute rights, but I think it may lose some of its strength when one begins to consider that other things may trump the trump. It seems to me like there only should be one trump in play. But, I could be wrong here.

I was particularly interested in Dworkin’s assertion that “We need rights, as a distinct element in political theory, only when some decision that injures some people nevertheless finds a prima-facie support in the claim that it will make the community as a whole better off on some plausible account of where the community’s general welfare lies” (166). Is this really the only time that we need rights? I can see an argument that such a time is the only time that we need to use rights, but are there other times that we need rights? This, of course, assumes that need and need to use are two different things; in other words, it assumes that there is a difference between needing a right and using a right. Put another way, are rights worthwhile to have even when we do not need to use them? I’m torn here. On the one hand, I think that rights are only useful when you can assert them. It makes little sense to assert a right unless you need to assert it. On the other hand, it seems to me that there may be instances when we need rights, but we have no need to assert them. Does anyone have any other thoughts?

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