PHIL 338A:  Study Questions for Topic #3:  Theories of Rights


1.  Explain or distinguish the following terms.  You may use examples to do so:

State of Nature vs. Civil Society;

Historical vs. Hypothetical Consent Theory of the Justification of Government Institutions;

Natural Rights/Consequentialist/Social Contract Theory of Rights

Act Utilitarian/Social Practice or Rule Utilitarian


2.  (a) What is the “State of Nature”?  (b) What kinds of rights does Locke believe that people have in the State of Nature?  Explain them briefly and be sure to explain why they qualify as rights, in the sense in which we use the term in this course.  (c) Why does Locke believe that the State of Nature will always evolve into a civil society?  (d) How does Locke believe the transformation can take place without violating anyone’s rights?  (e) Is the right of majorities to make laws that apply to the minority a natural right or a derived right for Locke?  Explain.


3.  John (an imaginary student) took a political philosophy course in which he learned that John Stuart Mill is a utilitarian.  Therefore, John concluded that J.S. Mill believed that it is morally justifiable for a government to infringe individual rights whenever it believes that doing so will maximize overall utility.  Explain why John is mistaken about J.S. Mill's position on individual rights.  [Hint:  How does J.S. Mill's kind of utilitarianism differed from the utilitarianism of his father, James Mill.]


4.  (a) What claim rights are advocated by Mill?  Explain briefly.  (b)What liberty rights are advocated by Mill?  Explain briefly. 


5.  (a) What is the Original Position?  (b) Give an example of a right NOT included in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights for which a good argument could be made in the Original Position.  Explain.


6.  Why does Rawls favor a hypothetical consent justification rather than an actual consent justification for the basic institutions and practices of a society?


7.  (a) Explain the following kinds of theories of rights:  (1) natural rights theory; (2) consequentialist theory; (3) social contract theory.  (b) For each of the three kinds of theory listed in part (a), give an example of a philosopher who advocates a theory of that kind and explain why his/her theory is a theory of the relevant kind.  (c) Of the three kinds of theory listed in part (a), which kind do you favor, if any?  Explain.  If you do not favor any, select the one that seems most plausible to you and explain why you don't accept it.


8.  (i) When is interference with individual liberty paternalistic?  (ii) For each of the following philosophers, state whether they would support a right against paternalistic interference in the liberty of normal, adult human beings.  If you cannot determine from the readings in this course whether or not they would support such a right, answer “Indeterminate”.  Explain your answer in a way that shows that you are familiar with the reading:

(a) John Locke

(b) John Stuart Mill

(c) John Rawls

(d) What is your position?


9.  One important element in the idea of a moral right is the idea of moral enforceability.  For each of the following authors, give their definition of what a right is and identify the element of the definition that involves moral enforceability:

(a) Locke's natural rights

(e) Mill