Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 677–690 | Cite as

Are There Any Conflicts of Rights?



This paper argues that a putative conflict between negative rights (to non-interference) and positive rights (to socio-economics goods) is not a genuine conflict. The thought that they might conflict presupposes, I argue, that the two rights are valid. This is the first assumption of my argument. The second is that general rights impose duties on everyone, not just the party who faces a conflict of correlative duties. These two assumptions yield the conclusion that positive rights impose enforceable duties on the holder of the negative right; no right is thus infringed if this duty is enforced so no conflict occurs. If this is correct, it means that we can include welfare or socio-economic rights in a set of general rights without generating conflicts with negative rights to non-interference; this might clear some space for arguments that favour egalitarian redistribution although it does not show that general positive rights do exist.


Conflicts of rights Positive rights Non-interference Redistribution Enforceable duties 


  1. Feinberg J (1978) Voluntary euthanasia and the inalienable right to life. Philos Public Aff 7:93–123Google Scholar
  2. Hart HLA (1984) Are there any natural rights? In: Waldron J (ed) Theories of rights. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 70–90Google Scholar
  3. Kamm F (2001) Conflicts of rights: typology, methodology and non-consequentialism. Legal Theory 7:239–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kramer M (1998) Rights without trimmings. In: Kramer M, Simmonds NE, Steiner H (eds) A debate over rights. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 7–111Google Scholar
  5. Preda A (2011) Rights enforcement, trade-offs, and pluralism. Res Publica 17:227–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Sen A (1982) Rights and agency. Philos Public Aff 11:3–39Google Scholar
  7. Shue S (1996) Basic rights: subsistence, affluence, and US foreign policy. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  8. Sreenivasan G (2010) Duties and their direction. Ethics 120:465–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Thomson JJ (1990) The realm of rights. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Waldron J (1989) Rights in conflict. Ethics 99:503–519CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Politics & Public AdministrationUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland

Personalised recommendations