AskDefine | Define rights

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  1. Plural of right; things one is entitled to do, in political philosophy.


Extensive Definition

In the jurisprudence and the law, a right is the legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something, or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society. Rights serve as rules of interaction between people, and, as such, they place constraints and obligations upon the actions of individuals or groups (for example, if one has a right to life, this means that others do not have the liberty to kill him).
Most modern conceptions of rights are universalist and egalitarian — in other words, equal rights are granted to all people. There are two main modern conceptions of rights: on the one hand, the idea of natural rights holds that there is a certain list of rights enshrined in nature that cannot be legitimately modified by any human power. On the other hand, the idea of legal rights holds that rights are human constructs, created by society, enforced by governments and subject to change.
By contrast, most pre-modern conceptions of rights were hierarchical, with different people being granted different rights, and some having more rights than others. For instance, the rights of a father to be respected by his son did not indicate a duty upon the father to return that respect, and the divine right of kings to hold absolute power over their subjects did not leave room for many rights to be granted to the subjects themselves. The concept of natural right developed in the School of Salamanca in the late 16th century, and first gained widespread acceptance nearly 200 years later, during the Age of Enlightenment.
It is not generally considered necessary that a right should be understood by the holder of that right; thus rights may be recognized on behalf of another, such as children's rights or the rights of people declared mentally incompetent to understand their rights. However, rights must be understood by someone in order to have legal existence, so the understanding of rights is a social prerequisite for the existence of rights. Therefore, educational opportunities within society have a close bearing upon the people's ability to erect adequate rights structures.
There are two fundamental controversies surrounding the notion of rights: First, there is the question of the basis for rights (on what basis rights can be said to exist). Second, there is the question of the content of rights (what the rights of a person actually are).

Types of rights

In modern English and European systems of jurisprudence and law, a right is the legal or moral entitlement to do or refrain from doing something or to obtain or refrain from obtaining an action, thing or recognition in civil society. Compare with duty, referring to behaviour that is expected or required of the person, and with privilege, referring to something that can be conferred and revoked.
The specific enumeration of rights accorded to people has historically differed greatly from one century to the next, and from one regime to the next, but nowadays is normally addressed by the constitutions of the respective nations. Generally speaking (within the English and European systems) a right corresponds with a complementary obligation that others have on the same object or realm; for instance, if someone has a right to something, simultaneously another party or parties have an obligation to do something (or to abstain from doing something) in order to respect that right or to give concrete execution to that right to be(...).
Property rights provide a good example: society recognizes that individuals have title to particular property as defined by the transaction by which they acquired the property granting the individual free use and possession of the property. In many cases, especially regarding ideological and similar rights, the obligation depends on the legal system in its entirety, or on the state, or on the generical universality of other subjects submitted to the law.
Societal rights or civil rights are bestowed to its citizenry by society and are a set of obligations that are purported as a social contract. Societal rights are a privilege of membership and the benefits are limited to its members though may be extended to temporary guests. Access to societal rights is dependent on government grants and on the citizen fulfilling their obligations e.g. complying with laws and paying taxes.
The right can therefore be a faculty of doing something, of omitting or refusing to do something or of claiming something. Some interpretations express a typical form of right in the faculty of using something, and this is more often related to the right of ownership of property. The faculty (in all the above mentioned senses) can be originated by a (generical or specific) law, or by a private contract (which is sometimes exactly defined as a specific law between or among volunteer parties).
Other interpretations consider the right as a sort of freedom of something or as the object of justice. One of the definitions of justice is in fact the obligation that the legal system has toward the individual or toward the collectivity to grant respect or execution to his/her/its right, ordinarily with no need of explicit claim.
Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics (book five), claims that there is a large difference between written (generalized) justice and what is actually right for the (specific) individual.
But what obscures the matter is that though what is equitable is just, it is not identical with, but a correction of, that which is just according to law.
The reason of this is that every law is laid down in general terms, while there are matters about which it is impossible to speak correctly in general terms. Where, then, it is necessary to speak in general terms, but impossible to do so correctly, the legislator lays down that which holds good for the majority of cases, being quite aware that it does not hold good for all.
The law, indeed, is none the less correctly laid down because of this defect; for the defect lies not in the law, nor in the lawgiver, but in the nature of the subject-matter, being necessarily involved in the very conditions of human action.Aristotle|The Nicomachean Ethics (10-3) (Peters' translation)
Rights can be divided into individual rights, which are held by individuals (or corporations) recognised by the legal system, and collective rights, which are held by an ensemble of people or a subgroup of people who have a certain characteristic in common. In some cases there can be an amount of tension between individual and collective rights. In other cases, the view of collective and individual rights held by one group can come into sharp and bitter conflict with the view of rights held by another group. For instance compare Manifest destiny with Trail of Tears.
With reference to the object of the right, a common general distinction is among:
  • Real rights (from the Latin word "res", thing), which include:
    • Property rights
    • Rights of use
    • Liberties
  • Personal rights, as a credit.

Important documents

See also


External links

rights in Arabic: صح
rights in Aragonese: Dreito
rights in Czech: Právo
rights in Danish: Rettighed
rights in German: Recht
rights in Modern Greek (1453-): Δικαίωμα
rights in Spanish: Derecho subjetivo
rights in Esperanto: Juro
rights in Persian: حقوق (قانونی)
rights in French: Droit subjectif
rights in Korean: 권리
rights in Italian: Diritto
rights in Hebrew: זכות
rights in Kirghiz: Hukuk
rights in Latin: Ius
rights in Dutch: Recht
rights in Japanese: 権利
rights in Uighur: ئوڭ
rights in Polish: Prawo
rights in Portuguese: Direito subjectivo
rights in Romanian: Drept
rights in Russian: субъективное право
rights in Simple English: Rights
rights in Swedish: Lag
rights in Thai: สิทธิ
rights in Turkish: Hak
rights in Chinese: 权利
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