Alan Gewirth on Rights - Dictionary of Arguments
Gaus I 110
Rights/Gewirth/Gaus: Gewirth’s argument, like Benn’s, starts from a broad conception of agency and holds that, given this conception, individuals are committed to claiming for themselves, and honouring the claims of others to, basic rights to freedom and wellbeing. >Actions/Benn.
Benn and Gewirth thus share the common project of deriving basic liberal rights from the very idea of moral agency.
GewirthVsBenn: Gewirth’s aim, though, is more radical: he argues that the nature of rational agency impels one to make a certain prudential claim, which gives rise to moral claims on others, which reason requires that one generalize. Moral agency is entailed by rationality. (For a general criticism of this type of argument, see Williams, 1985(2): 55–64.) In contrast, Benn distinguishes rational agency from moral agency. It is possible, he argues, to be a purely ‘natural person’ who makes no moral claims: psychopaths, he suggests, may possess rational natural personality – rational agents devoted to securing their goals – but be devoid of moral personality (1988(3): 101–2). Moral persons are those who see others and themselves in terms of moral relations: it is how we do in fact see ourselves, and it is moral persons who would recognize the basic right of non-interference.
1. Gewirth, Alan (1981) Reason and Morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2. Williams, Bernard (1985) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. London: Fontana/Collins.
2. Benn, Stanley I. (1988) A Theory of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gaus, Gerald F. 2004. „The Diversity of Comprehensive Liberalisms.“ In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Gerald F. Gaus
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004