The Idea of Rights (ii)

On the Sources and Significance of Social Rights
  • A. J. M. Milne


7.1.1 No one can have a right solely in virtue of his individual identity. John Doe cannot be entitled to anything simply as John Doe. What then can entitle him? The short answer is, rules and principles. For there to be a right to something, there must be rules or principles which specify certain conditions and declare that all those and only those who satisfy them are entitled to it. To have the right to vote in a British general election, John Doe must satisfy the conditions specified in the rules of British electoral law: for instance, he must have British nationality, have reached the age of eighteen, not be a peer of the realm, a convicted felon or a certified lunatic. To have the right to have a promise kept, he must be a promisee, what this is being specified in the rules of the practice of promising: that is, he must be someone to whom another person has made a bona fide promise at a given time and place. Law, custom and morality have already been mentioned as sources of rights (see 6.1.1). What makes them sources is that they contain rules and principles.1 But, if they are to be the sources of John Doe’s rights, he must already be subject to them. What subjects him to them in the first place?


Constitutive Rule Human Diversity Social Adaptation Common Morality Regulative Rule 
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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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