What Is Wrong with a Rights-based Approach to Morality?

AuthorRajesh Kapoor
Published date01 June 2019
Date01 June 2019
Subject MatterArticles
What Is Wrong with a
Rights-based Approach
to Morality?
Rajesh Kapoor1
There is a prominent streak of scholarship in moral and political philosophy
which espouses the idea that morality is rights based. In this article, I argue that
such an approach not only undermines but also operates against a range of other
morally significant human relationships and attitudes such as community, solidar-
ity, care, compassion and benevolence, which play an important role in our lives.
The concept of rights is a product of historical circumstances, and it risks turning
morality upside down if it encourages self-righteous claims. The notion of rights
can be a constituent element of morality, but the entire moral phenomenon can-
not be just rights based, and rights and duties need to remain balanced.
Rights, morality, community, individualism, care, compassion
The idea of rights has become so pervasive in the present age that some writers
have termed it the age of rights.1 Almost every human act and quest ranging
from education to environment and sex to spiritualism is talked about, trans-
lated, measured and understood in the terminology of rights. People claim not
only a right to life but to die also. Not only a right to development, but to do
wrong also.2 Not only a right to food but even a right to pornography.3 The
1 Norberto bobbio, the Age of rights (1996); Louis heNkiN, the Age of rights (1996).
2 Jeremy Waldron, A Right to Do Wrong, in theories of rights 21-39 (C. L. Ten ed., 2006).
3 Ronald Dworkin, Is There a Right to Pornography, in theories of rights 177-212 (C. L. Ten ed.,
Journal of National
Law University Delhi
6(1) 1–11, 2019
2019 National Law
University Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2277401719870004
1 NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
Corresponding author:
Rajesh Kapoor, Room No. 30 Academic Block, NALSAR University of Law, Justice City Shameerpet,
Medchal District, Hyderabad, Telangana 500101, India.
E-mail: rajeshkapoor@nalsar.ac.in

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