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A right is the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled or a thing to which one has a just claim. Rights serve as rules of interaction between people, and, as such, they place constraints upon the actions of individuals or groups. For example, if one is granted a right to life, this means that others do not have the liberty to murder him. The recognition of rights is a counterbalance to discrimination
Most modern conceptions of rights are universalist and egalitarian; in other words, equal rights are granted to all people. Such rights may be defined in terms of the Golden Rule ("do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). An individual agrees to respect the rights of others in exchange for the assurance that the others will respect the same rights for him in turn.
By contrast, most pre-modern conceptions of rights were hierarchical, with different people being granted different rights, and some having more rights than others. For instance, the rights of a father to be respected by his son did not indicate a duty upon the father to return that respect, and the divine right of kings to hold absolute power over their subjects did not leave room for many rights to be granted to the subjects themselves.
It is not generally considered necessary that a right should be understood by the holder of that right, thus rights may be agreed on behalf of another, such as children's rights or the rights of people declared mentally incompetant to understand their rights. However, rights must be understood by someone in order to have legal existence, so the understanding of rights is a social prerequisite for the existence of rights. Therefore, educational opportunities within society have a close bearing upon the people's ability to erect adequate rights structures.
There are two fundamental controversies surrounding the notion of rights: First, there is the question of the basis for rights (on what basis can rights be said to exist). Second, there is the question of the content of rights (what the rights of a person actually are).
Legal rights[edit | edit source]
In modern English and European systems of jurisprudence and law, a right is the legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society. Compare with duty, referring to behaviour that is expected or required of the citizen, and with privilege, referring to something that can be conferred and revoked.
The specific enumeration of rights accorded to citizens has historically differed greatly from one century to the next, and from one regime to the next, but nowadays is normally addressed by the constitutions of the respective nations. Generally speaking (within the English and European systems) a right corresponds with a complementary obligation that others have on the same object or realm; for instance if someone has a right on a thing, simultaneously another party or parties have an obligation to do something (or to abstain from doing something) in order to respect that right or to give concrete execution to that right.
Property rights provide a good example: society recognizes that individuals have title to particular property as defined by the transaction by which they acquired the property granting the individual free use and possession of the property. In many cases, especially regarding ideological and similar rights, the obligation depends on the legal system in its entirety, or on the state, or on the generical universality of other subjects submitted to the law.
The right can therefore be a faculty of doing something, of omitting or refusing to do something or of claiming something. Some interpretations express a typical form of right in the faculty of using something, and this is more often related to the right of property. The faculty (in all the above mentioned senses) can be originated by a (generical or specific) law, or by a private contract (which is sometimes exactly defined as a specific law between or among volunteer parties).
Other interpretations consider the right as a sort of freedom of something or as the object of justice. One of the definitions of justice is in fact the obligation that the legal system has toward the individual or toward the collectivity to grant respect or execution to his/her/its right, ordinarily with no need of explicit claim.
- (10-3) "But what obscures the matter is that though what is equitable is just, it is not identical with, but a correction of, that which is just according to law."
- (10-4) "The reason of this is that every law is laid down in general terms, while there are matters about which it is impossible to speak correctly in general terms. Where, then, it is necessary to speak in general terms, but impossible to do so correctly, the legislator lays down that which holds good for the majority of cases, being quite aware that it does not hold good for all."
- "The law, indeed, is none the less correctly laid down because of this defect; for the defect lies not in the law, nor in the lawgiver, but in the nature of the subject-matter, being necessarily involved in the very conditions of human action."
Rights can be divided into individual rights, that are held by citizens as individuals (or corporations) recognised by the legal system, and collective rights, held by an ensemble of citizens or a subgroup of citizens who have a certain characteristic in common. In some cases there can be an amount of tension between individual and collective rights. In other cases, the view of collective and individual rights held by one group can come into sharp and bitter conflict with the view of rights held by another group. For instance compare Manifest destiny with Trail of Tears.
With reference to the object of the right, a common general distinction is among:
- Real rights (from the Latin word "res", thing), which include:
- Property rights
- Rights of use
Particular systems can (or could in the past) include special rights like:
- Fief rights, which included:
Important documents[edit | edit source]
- Magna Carta (1215; England)
- Bill of Rights 1689 (England)
- Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789; France)
- One of the fundamental documents of the French Revolution, defining a set of individual rights and collective rights of the people.
- United States Bill of Rights (1789/1791)
- The first ten amendments of the United States Constitution.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
- An over-arching set of standards by which Governments, organisations and individuals would measure their behaviour towards each other. The preamble declares that the
- "...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world..."
- Other general Declarations from the UN have followed, notably the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 .
- European Convention on Human Rights (1950)
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
- Its purpose is to protect rights of Canadian citizens from actions and policies of all levels of government.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000)
See also[edit | edit source]
- Human rights
- Animal rights
- Bill of rights
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Social contract
- Claim (patent)
[edit | edit source]
- "Right" in Wiktionary
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, article by Leif Wenar.
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International
- Teacher's Rights
- International Freedom of Expression Exchange
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