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
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 these 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
It may look like the true counterright of the right to work, but it is
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 what can be achieved in this way 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, will, then,
not convince the multitudes anymore.
The right to freedom from discrimination, or not to be discriminated
against, has also 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 persons.
People have 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
Whether they also have the intrinsic right or duty to discriminate
depends on the principles recognized, or rather, on the nonrecognition of
the normative principles which ought to be recognized.
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 view is partially erroneous: even if intrinsic, they can still be
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, fancifully formulated rights,
and pairs of rights and counterrights.
In a way rights are like bank-notes: the more of them are being
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 people are 'losing rights' when too many of them
are being claimed too readily relative to available theoretical
and practical means.