There is no end to the number of rights or to the existence of rights which theorists or other people can claim; nor is there an end to the number of duties or obligations they can burden a person, a group or society at large with. It all depends on the principles (or lack thereof) of the doctrine espoused, and possibly on one or more metadoctrinal principles, even when its or their different order is not recognized. Conceptually almost anything can be the object of a right for those advocating rights or theories of rights. It may be an abstract condition (like freedom), a concreted state of being (like life perhaps) or an object (a material thing). Instead of the concrete thing itself, the exclusion or nonexclusion from this object may be referred to. Thus two opposite kinds of individual property have been distinguished: the individual right 'to exclude others from the use or benefit of something' and the individual right 'not to be excluded from the use or benefit of something'. This assertion that there are two opposite kinds of individual property is but one instance of a general tendency to formulate some kind of 'counterright' for every alleged right that someone is not willing to recognize at all, or which 'e wants to see overridden or weakened. The counter- in counterright is, then, used in the loose sense of antonymical metaphysics: the right not to be punished, for instance, could be said to be a 'counterright' of the 'right' to punish, altho a half-right not to punish would be the first candidate if the 'right' to punish is actually a half-right.

With respect to discretionary rights it is practically obligatory to put them into terms which show their dual internal structure, for they are rights to (the freedom to) do or not to do. A discretionary right to punish, for instance, is a right to punish or not to punish. The derivative right to punish and the derivative right not to punish are in this case not counterrights because they are compatible; they are 'twin-rights', so to say. A discretionary right to life is a right to live (or life) or not to live (or death), that is, a right to live or to die of one's own free will. It is not some nonwaivable, mandatory half-right.

The 'counterright' of the right 'to be born' is the right 'not to be born'. It is antiabortionists who started to appeal to a half-right to be born. For them even unborn fetuses were already children with a 'duty': the duty to be born. Since it cannot be interpreted as a discretionary right, and since it is not a nonactivating half-right, it is intrinsic, and depends on certain doctrinal principles, or on an inconsistent application of those principles which cannot be discussed here. It has been argued from the standpoint of an interest theory of rights that there is no right to be born but, under certain conditions, only a right not to be born.

One of the alleged socioeconomic rights is the right to paid labor. As an intrinsic general right it is a passive right against the world at large. It is especially advocated by those who look upon paid work as a duty, in patriarchal societies traditionally at least a duty for male humans who are not too young and not too old, and as a no-right for all others. The underlying supposition of the right 'to paid labor' is that paid labor is always something advantageous, that people (or at least men) want more of it, even when they have attained a minimum standard of living, and even if the use and control of the capital which they normatively own would suffice. Now, to keep it pleasurable, this right or half-right to work has been counteracted by a right 'to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay'. Long before the declaration of this worker's right, the human (or animal? or people's?) right 'to laziness' had already been proclaimed. It may look like the true counterright of the right to work, but it is rather an extrinsic right. It implicitly presupposes that human beings can afford to be lazy while not depending on the fruits of the involuntary labors of others.

The doctrinal principle on which a socioeconomic right rests is some sort of distributive principle according to which a certain kind of distributional pattern of goods is preferable to all others. It creates the general duty of one party to give and the general right of another party to receive -- this to establish some kind of justice. It has been argued, however, that this is merely recipient justice. The right to receive has thus given birth to a new alleged right: the right to give, its counterright. When this happens, one has to return to the basic principles, since the language of rights, however emphatic it may once have been, does, then, not persuade anymore.

Also the right to freedom from discrimination, or not to be discriminated against, has given birth to an alleged counterright in discussions on equality or equal treatment. It is the right 'to discriminate' so religiously appealed to by orthodox monotheists in particular. It is a specification of the right to be immoral, and as such it should be granted to people of that persuasion. As a right to be immoral, however, it derives from the extrinsic and discretionary right to be moral or not to be moral. This means that it must not in any way interfere with the liberty (also the liberty to be 'moral' or 'immoral') of other people. People have thus the extrinsic right to discriminate only when they keep it to and amongst themselves; they never have the extrinsic right, let alone the duty, to meddle with other people's affairs in a discriminatory manner. Whether they also have the intrinsic right or duty to discriminate depends on the normative principles recognized, or rather, on the nonrecognition of such principles. Those who adhere to a truly moral denominational or other doctrine do not even have this right for themselves, nor amongst themselves.

It has been argued that the introduction of social and economic rights into declarations of human rights would bring the concept of human rights into disrepute, for social and economic rights would not really be human rights. This is partially a mistake: even if intrinsic, they can still be human rights. It must be granted that the socioeconomic rights of, for example, workers are, strictly speaking, not human rights, that is, rights of humans as humans, but neither are the political or civil rights of citizens. Furthermore, it might as well be the absence of socioeconomic, yet human, rights which would bring a declaration of human rights into disrepute. What probably enfeebles the concept of human rights, and the whole concept of rights, most is the unrestrained proliferation of alleged rights, and particularly of very specific, verbose rights, and pairs of rights and counterrights.

In a way rights are like bank-notes: the more of them are printed on paper the higher the inflation. And just as people are 'losing money' in the case of a rise in the general price level, so all of us are 'losing rights' when too many of them are being claimed too readily relative to available theoretical and practical means.

©MVVM, 41-57 ASWW

Model of Neutral-Inclusivity
Book of Instruments
Right-Duty Constellations
Some Alleged Rights and Justifications