Res Publica

, 17:227 | Cite as

Rights Enforcement, Trade-offs, and Pluralism



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.


Conflicts of rights Trade-offs Enforcement Consequentialism Agent-relative reasons Pluralism 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CRÉUM, Université de MontréalSucc. Centre-Ville MontréalCanada

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