, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 217-234

On deriving rights to goods from rights to freedom

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Abstract

This paper examines a particular type of argument often employed to defend welfare rights. This argument contends that welfare rights are a necessary supplement to liberty rights because rights to freedom become hollow when their bearers are not able to take advantage of their freedom. Rights to be provided with certain goods are thus a natural outgrowth of a genuine concern to protect freedom.

I argue that this reasoning suffers from two fatal flaws. First, it rests on an erroneous notion of what it is to have a right, neglecting the fact that the exact source of a person's inability to exercise a right is crucial to determining whether that right is being respected. Second, the argument equivocates as to the “freedom” that rights are intended to protect, sometimes confusing freedom with ability, sometimes confusing not being free with not having other desired things, and sometimes confusing what a person is able to do with what a person is entitled to do.