You are here:

Philosophy/Define "Rights"


Hi Steven,
I wanted a deeper understanding of what rights are but could find no satisfactory definition of the term. Some dictionaries define rights using the word rights in their definition. I know people use the word with an intuitive yet undefinable sense but I want to know what it is.
So far, I've reached a temporary conclusion that it is synonymous to "choice". For example, "I have the right to remain silent" according to a cop or detective. That may assume I have a choice to either remain silent or to speak. It seems "right" implies a choice whereby you pick one or it's complete opposite.

I'm still not satisfied with that definition but it's all I have now. I'm not sure I like rights being equated with what is "due" to a person, at least not in every instance.

Anyway, how would you "define" rights?


There isn't one correct definition of the term "rights" as there are many different contexts and uses.

Legal Rights: are simply defined by the relevant law.  The right to remain silent when charged with a crime is granted by the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and applies only within the U.S.  Other countries may or may not grant the same right within their boundaries.

Legal rights always vary with historical time and geographic boundaries.

Moral Rights: are determined by the local moral code, the rules that govern acceptable/unacceptable behavior.

Moral Rights generally vary with geographical and social context.

Ethical Rights are universal and unchanging as they emanate from a universal source, e.g. Reason (Kant), Nature (Locke); the principal of utility (J.S. Mill).



All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Steven R. Storch


Ethics, Existentialism and Phenomenology, Continental Metaphysics

©2017 All rights reserved.