What should I read about rights?


I need a little quick help.  I’m teaching a graduate policy analysis class this semester.  It is mostly applied welfare economics, public goods, social welfare functionals, discount rates, risk, etc., etc.    In other words, standard utilitarian fare.  However, I would like to spend one hour on rights.

So, your first response is “1 hour?!!!!”  I know.  Isn’t public policy all about rights?  Well, maybe it should be.  But policy analysis, at least as it is usually taught in graduate school, is about tradeoffs–which don’t fit too well into the world of rights, obligations and imperatives.

So here is what I need: a good  but not too long (book chapter length) article that talks about rights and public policy.  A focus on how rights can be incorporated—in a practical, useful way—into a larger utilitarian framework (rather than a Kantian rant against utilitarianism) is preferred, though not necessarily confined to just rule-utilitarianism.    Something Epstein-ish, perhaps, would be good.  I’m not satisfied with what I was using (a sort of philosophically taxonomy of rights, duties and obligations), so I need something quick.

Any ideas?

4 thoughts on “What should I read about rights?

  1. I seem to remember Deborah Stone’s book Policy Paradox having a chapter on rights. I don’t remember much about it, but it might be useful. Perhaps if you gave Kant a chance, though, you’d find that you wouldn’t need to look as far to incorporate basic rights into the overall framework…Just saying… 😉

  2. I’m surprised nothing is coming to mind for me. I seem to recall that Alan Donagan’s Theory of Morality has some policy applications. He was a conventional, slightly left-of-center Kantian. Of course, there’s Rothbard’s For a New Liberty if you want 200-proof libertarian anarchism.

  3. Kant rules, and doesn’t conflict with Utilitarianism. Actually, without the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ Utilitarianism doesn’t even make sense to me. Doesn’t Mill just assume some sort of value in moral agency? Kant proves the contradiction in not doing so. Any moral system not based in rubbish owes itself to Kantian idealism.

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