Rights and Virtues: the groundwork of a virtue-based theory of rights

Dissertation, University of Glasgow (2018)
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The dissertation investigates whether virtue ethics can provide the normative ground for the justification of rights. Most justificatory accounts of rights consist in different explanations of the function of rights. On the view I will defend, rights have a plurality of functions and one of the main functions of rights is to make the right-holder more virtuous. The idea that the possession of rights leads to the development of virtues, called the function of virtue acquisition, is the core of a virtue-based justification of rights elaborated in this dissertation. Based on Leif Wenar’s Kind-Desire Theory of rights and Nancy E. Snow’s Minimal Virtue of the Folk, I argue that there are two general types of rights, enabling rights and protective rights, and that both types are essential to the development of virtues. Enabling rights have the function of virtue acquisition because they allow the right-holder to strive for approximation of ideal role models while performing duties and other tasks. Such models are called heuristic models of virtues for they define what virtues are and how these virtues should be expressed in action. Some protective rights, namely promissory rights and the power-right to promise, behave like enabling rights when it comes to their ability to develop virtues. Other protective rights, especially children’s rights, make right-holders more virtuous via protecting their essential needs. The dissertation succeeds in elaborating the virtue-based justification of many rights, hence it suggests that people hold and should have rights because rights make them better people.
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Archival date: 2019-06-19
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