Rights Enforcement, Trade-offs, and Pluralism
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This paper asks whether (human) rights enforcement is permissible given that it may entail infringing on the rights of innocent bystanders. I consider two strategies that adopt a rights-sensitive consequentialist framework and offer a positive answer to this question, namely Amartya Sen’s and Hillel Steiner’s. Against Sen, I argue that trade-offs between rights are problematic since they contradict the purpose of rights, which is to provide a pluralist solution to disagreement about values, i.e. to allow agents to act in accordance with their values. I further argue that Steiner’s compensation strategy does not succeed in avoiding trade-offs so it falls prey to the same criticism. I propose a non-trade-off solution that is implicit in the accounts discussed and is more consistent with the meta-ethical framework advocated by Sen. This solution relies on an enforceable duty to share in the costs of rights enforcement hence it entails a degree of redistribution for enforcement purposes.
KeywordsConflicts of rights Trade-offs Enforcement Consequentialism Agent-relative reasons Pluralism
I want to thank Elizabeth Ashford, Nir Eyal, Maria Paola Ferretti, Chloë Fitzgerald, Anca Gheaus, Axel Gosseries, Mark Reiff, Massimo Renzo, Daniel Schwartz, Shlomi Segall, Hillel Steiner and Nicholas Vrousalis for very helpful written and/or verbal comments as well as the audiences at the ALSP Annual conference, April 2008, the Society for Applied Philosophy conference, July 2008, and two anonymous referees for this journal.
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