Pillars of Choice: Rights and Responsibilities

June 5, 2009

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

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