Pillars of Choice: Rights and Responsibilities

Jun 5, 2009

Balancing rights and responsibilities is one of the pillars supporting ethical choice. How far do our rights extend? Do responsibilities diminish our entitlements?

Everyone has rights, things they are entitled to. Do responsibilities diminish our entitlements?

Balancing rights and responsibilities is one of the pillars supporting ethical choice.

Rights are easier to define, from the 1689 English Bill of Rights to the post-World War II International Bill of Human Rights.

Early understanding of rights emphasizes political and civil rights, like freedom of speech and the rule of law, today's first International Covenant.

The second International Covenant focuses on newer ideas, on economic, social, and cultural rights, like an adequate standard of living, an education, and family life.

The Covenants are sometimes viewed as "Freedoms From" and "Freedoms To." We assert that these human rights apply to all.

But, we live in communities, and having rights implies implementing policies and judging disputes. Equally important, rights imply reciprocity. If you assert rights, you also concede rights to others. Rights require order in our social interactions and institutions to govern them.

Hence, responsibilities come from community, governance, and reciprocity.

How do we balance what we get and give? How responsible am I to others and society? How far do my rights extend? What do you think?

By William Vocke

To post a comment, go to the Global Ethics Corner slideshow.

You may also like

empty United Nations General Assembly hall

MAY 22, 2023 Article

Sitting on the Sidelines: The Global Divide on Ukraine

Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal reflects on the global divide in relation to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Joel Rosenthal at the UN

MAR 2, 2023 Article

Gandhian Trusteeship: Empathy, Mutuality, and a New Realism

On February 23, 2023, Carnegie Council President Joel Rosenthal spoke on empathy, mutuality, realism, and in the influence of Mahatma Gandhi at an event organized by Permanent ...

U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams tanks

FEB 6, 2023 Article

Ethics, Escalation, and Engagement in Ukraine and Beyond

Now that HIMAR and Patriot missiles as well as Leopard and Abrams tanks are on the way to Ukraine, NATO unity is at a high ...

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation