The Idea of Rights (i)

  • A. J. M. Milne


6.1.1 What is it to have a right? What are the sources of rights? Why should there be rights at all? An investigation into the idea of rights must answer these questions. In this chapter I shall be concerned with the first, in the next with the other two. The key notion in the concept of a right is ‘entitlement’. To say that you have a right to something is to say that you are entitled to it: for instance, to vote, to receive an old-age pension, to hold your own opinion, to enjoy domestic privacy. To say that rights are entitlements is, of course, only to substitute one word for another. But the substitution is helpful in elucidating the concept of a right. It focuses attention on the source of rights. If you are entitled to something, either you, or someone else on your behalf, must be able to answer the question, ‘What entitles you to it?’ This presupposes that there are ways of becoming entitled to things and three immediately come to mind. They are law, custom and morality. But more on them and how entitlements come about later. First let us make use of the notion of entitlement to elucidate the concept of a right.


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Copyright information

© A. J. M. Milne 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. M. Milne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DurhamUK

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