Rights to Do Wrong

Class notes for 23 January

Main points

I wanted to discuss Waldron’s article for two reasons.

First, I think that what I called his weak point can be used to show how the distinctions we talked about last time can solve an actual problem. By distinguishing between liberty and claim-rights, we can see how it could be possible for there to be such a thing as a right to do wrong.

Second, I think it’s interesting in its own right. Specifically, while I have some reservations about Waldron’s way of arguing for what I called his strong point, I agree with him about the value of having a right to do wrong.

I agree for two reasons. First, I think that making the right choice loses some of its value if it isn’t possible for me to make the wrong one. Second, I agree with Jay that social life without a right to do wrong would be intolerable.

Suzie and John didn’t buy it, though.

What’s wrong with a right to do wrong?

I didn’t really give Suzie and John enough space to describe their reasons for rejecting rights to do wrong. But I did catch Suzie’s objections to Waldron’s argument.

Here’s what I think she said.

Suzie said that Waldron hasn’t really established a right to do wrong. The most he has shown is that there is a right to be protected from some kinds of interference, even if I am doing something wrong.

For instance, I might have a right against being bludgeoned even though I am saying racist things.

But it doesn’t follow that I have a right to say racist things.

First, I don’t have a right to do the things I need to succeed in saying racist things. For instance, others are at liberty to drown me out by talking over me.

Second, you might say that the right I described is a different one than the right to say racist things. It’s the right against being bludgeoned (so long as I am not posing a physical threat to anyone and bludgeoning is the only way to stop that threat).

I think those are pretty good points. I haven’t thought through how they might be brought into line with my and Jay’s reasons for accepting the right to do wrong. I have a feeling that they should be compatible with one another, but I’m not sure.