Rights, Benefits and Interests

  • Samuel Stoljar


Our discussion of rights as claims or entitlements, or as defences or liberties, has taken us some distance, but we have still quite a way to go, if only to consider still other elements that conceptually form part of rights. Our next question will chiefly be this: if rights are claims to something, what, very generally, can this something be? As one can claim many things — to live, or to be safe, or to marry, or to ply one’s trade — it is clear that what a person is claiming (we assume, for the present, always against another individual) will comprise some benefit or advantage or, more broadly, an interest he wishes to realise. Of course not every personal benefit one wants or claims qualifies automatically as a right. But a right, so we shall now argue, must contain at least an element of benefit to be a right at all. To make a claim to something means that the claimant seeks something he deems beneficial or of interest to himself: only so can its denial to him constitute a ground for complaint. For, normally, one only complains because one has been deprived of some benefit; if a particular benefit were not missed one would have no grievance. One cannot complain if one finds oneself better instead of worse off. For greater clarity we shall first discuss benefits, later interests.


Personal Interest Personal Benefit Objective Sense Legal Duty Relative Duty 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See D. Lyons, ‘Rights, Claimants and Beneficiaries’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 6 (1969) pp. 173, 176;Google Scholar
  2. D. N. MacCormick, ‘Rights in Legislation’, in Hacker and Raz (eds) Law, Morality and Society (Oxford, 1977) pp. 189, 204ff.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    H. L. A. Hart, ‘Bentham’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 48 (1962), pp. 297, 314–5; ‘Are There any Natural Rights’, Philosophical Review, 64 (1955) pp. 175, 180–2; ‘Bentham on Legal Rights’, in A. W. B. Simpson (ed.) Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1973) p. 171.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    In view of this and what he conceives as other difficulties (see 175ff), Lyons prefers to defend only what he calls a qualified benefit-theory. Not only, as above explained, does his last (and perhaps major) difficulty not really exist, his other qualifications, too, are better seen as comments on the notion of benefit itself, as this notion is ordinarily understood. Indeed, unless seen in a conventional light, a benefit-theory would yield results either incorrigibly absurd or too easily corrigible to be seriously entertained. Hence, assuming one agrees to adopt the latter rather than former alternative, we do not have to regard the theory as qualified, but can view it as the benefit-theory tout court. For a different criticism of Lyons, see T. R. Kearns, ‘Rights, Benefits and Normative Systems’, Achiv für Rechts und Sozial Philosophie, 61 (1975) p. 465, where the author tries to reaffirm the linkage of rights and benefits through what he calls an Adjustment Rules account of rights.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    See on this J. Feinberg, Social Philosophy (New Jersey, 1973) p. 26;Google Scholar
  6. W. J. Rees, ‘Public Interest’, Aristotelian Society Supplement, 38 (1964) pp. 19ff;Google Scholar
  7. R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals (Oxford, 1980) pp. 55, 78, 146.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    See, in particular, Lamont, ‘Rights’, Proceedings Aristotelian Society, 24 (1950) p. 83;Google Scholar
  9. H. J. McCloskey, ‘Rights’, Philosophical Quarterly, 15 (1965) pp. 155, 166; D. N. McCormick, ‘Right in Legislation’, pp. 189, 192ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© S. J. Stoljar 1984

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  • Samuel Stoljar

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