Rights and Intrinsic Properties

I’m curious what people think of the following principle:

(RIP): Suppose that some person x has intrinsic feature F; suppose that x has a moral right to have F.  Suppose that some other person y can bring it about that y has F without violating anyone else’s moral rights.    Then y has a moral right to have  F.

I’ll explain the potential application of this principle (or something like it, if it needs tweaking) in a later post.

35 Replies to “Rights and Intrinsic Properties

  1. It’s hard to say anything. Doesn’t look like much of an principle. We have three suppositions. I guess we can suppose them. But, I don’t see how the ‘then y has a moral right to have F’ follows from the suppositions without further arguments.
    Here’s a case in mind.
    Jones has a genetic make-up XYZ. He has a moral right to have that genetic make-up – after all he has been born with the genes. Everyone has a right to carry the genes they have been born with.
    Smith, a genius gene-manipulator, has a genetic make-up ABC. He could manipulate his genes to have a new genetic make-up, XYZ – the one Jones has. Doing this doesn’t seem to violate Jones’s rights. He doesn’t seem to have a right that Smith does not have the given genetic make-up. But, it doesn’t seem to follow that Smith has a right to have the genetic make-up XYZ. Someone might deny that one can have a right to have gene’s manipulated.

  2. I’m with Jussi. There’s too little here to work with.
    But even with the materials here there do seem to be things to object to. If I can do something without violating anyone else’s rights it neither follows that I’m right to do it, nor that if I do it I have a right to what flows from it. Suppose I can make myself taller by doing something that harms lots of small animals or the environment, or any other sort of thing that might be a ground for thinking the action wrong or even just on balance not so great for people to do. I may well not have violated any rights in doing so, but I may still have done something wrong – perhaps enough so that others would permissibly prevent me from doing it.
    Suppose we have an action of a sort that cumulatively make people worse off, but individually has negligible effects. My sense is that absent an agreement, law or regulation or other coordination mechanism I may violate no right in doing the actions of that type just because my action by itself doesn’t harm anyone. (If you’re worried about teeny tiny harms violating rights make the case one where there’s a threshold such that once ten thousand people do actions of that type any additional actions of that type do no more harm.) We may think that it is a good idea to pass a law to coordinate our actions such that we get the benefits of us all not doing actions of that type. Your principle would seem to entail that such regulations should not be passed for fear of violating the rights of those who would do those actions to get the result of actions of that sort.

  3. I’m perplexed by the complaint that there’s too little to work with. I’ve stated a principle that is as clear as the notions of an intrinsic property and a moral right. You can now think about arguments for or against it, and ways in which the principle might need to be modified.
    Admittedly, the notion of a moral right is somewhat murky. Is this the source of the problem? I can’t give you a worked out theory of all that follows from someone having a right to something. I wish I could.
    Mark wrote: “Your principle would seem to entail that such regulations should not be passed for fear of violating the rights of those who would do those actions to get the result of actions of that sort.”
    I don’t see why the principle alluded to has this consequence. Maybe it does, but we would need to do a lot of work seeing what exactly follows from someone having a moral right to something.
    I agree with Mark that it doesn’t straightforwardly follow from the fact that one has a right to do A that others have obligations to not interfere with one’s doing A, and that it doesn’t follow from the fact that one violates no one else’s rights by doing A that one has a right to do A. But I don’t see why these facts make a problem for the principle.
    Jussi’s case is interesting, but I’m not convinced it is a counter-example to the principle. Why doesn’t the geneticist have the right to alter her genetic code? The fact that *someone* might say that she doesn’t have this right doesn’t move me. People say silly things all the time.

  4. If Jussi’s case is a counterexample, then it would have to be the case that (i) one can have the right to *have* XYZ but (ii) one can’t have the right to *bring it about that one has* XYZ (even if doing so violates no rights). That seems odd.

  5. Kris,
    doesn’t sound so silly that I don’t have a right to change my genetic code to yours, George Bush’s, Robert Downey jr’s or Einstein’s. What would such a right be based on?
    About the too little to work with. I just don’t like the idea that the way we should proceed is that we formulate a principle, and then ask others to find counter-examples. If they don’t, we should think of the principle to be true. Rather, before we want start looking for counter-examples, it would be nice to have some substance that would make the principle appealing – some explanation of why it might hold, and so on. This would be what would make the principle interesting. Otherwise it’s just a curious generalisation which might be accidentally true.

  6. Ben,
    I’m not sure. In sports, for instance, athletes have a right to have unordinarily high levels of testosterone or hemoglobin but they don’t have a right to bring about such levels even when they could.

  7. Jussi,
    Yeah, but surely that’s not a question of moral rights, but legal rights (or some sorts of conventional rights). Right? Also, in that case it seems plausible that when one competitor boosts his testosterone level he thereby violates the rights of the other competitors.

  8. Hi Jussi,
    I think with respect to a blogpost, it’s ok to just present a principle and then ask what people think about it. I hope you aren’t suggesting that I (or anyone else for that matter) am apt to believe a principle is true just because no one else has come up with a counter-example. (Anyways, I didn’t ask specifically for a counter-example. I asked for thoughts, which could of course include a counter-example.)
    As for what the right might be based on, it might be based on a more general right to have your body be as you see fit. Since I think I *am* my body, I would try to base it on a more general (and of course defeasible) right to have my intrinsic state be as I see fit.

  9. Kris,
    I sympathize with Jussi and Mark.
    Why does x have a right to F? Here are some possible answers:
    Answer 1) Because F is biological (like Jussi’s genetic example above)
    Answer 2) Because x somehow earned F (e.g., F could be a virtue that x worked hard to acquire)
    Answer 3) ….
    I think it may be the case that how one has/comes to have F is important in whether one has a right to F. Presumably this is Jussi’s genetics point. Also, if F can be gotten in different ways, then we’d need to know how Y came to have F since without knowing that we couldn’t know if he acquired F in a right-granting way.
    Some examples: If you clumsily drop your wallet into my hand, I do not thereby have a right to your wallet and its contents.
    Suppose my blood had curative properties, and I trademarked/patented it, and sold it to the sick. Every time someone used my blood, or something with its biological make-up, I would get paid for that use. Now suppose a mad scientist makes a machine that replaces your useless blood with my curative blood and suppose no one is harmed. Does it follow now that you have a right to the curative properties of my blood and need not pay me for it? I don’t think so.
    So I think that your principle, as is, does not hold up.

  10. Hi Larry,
    It seems to me that your case is a case in which someone else’s rights are being violated. If that’s the case, the principle I mention does not imply that you have the right to the curative properties of the blood.

  11. Hi Larry,
    I think your other examples don’t work. Suppose you’ve worked hard to be virtuous. Suppose that being virtuous is an intrinsic state. What’s the counter-example? What’s the problem with saying that everyone has a (defeasible) right to be a virtuous person?
    Having your wallet is an extrinsic feature, not an intrinsic one. I don’t see the relevance of that example.

  12. Kris,
    of course it’s ok for a blog post. But, we are intrigued about what got you thinking about the principle. We would like to know more about what were you thinking about. No, I didn’t take you to be thinking that no counter-examples is warrant.
    If there is such a right which you mention, then that would make the principle you started with definitively true – even though the talk about two agents and bringing about, and so on redundant. Right to be in any intrinsic state I see fit, guarantees that y has a moral right to have F no matter what. This makes the principle interesting.
    It can be tested though. One case is extreme body mutilation. There are people who want to get their limbs ambutated for non-medical reasons. It’s not obvious that they have a right to do so. Other case is strong mind-altering drugs – do people have a right to take them – LCD anyone?
    Ben,
    well that’s a borderline case. It does sound a bit morally dubious. I do grant the second claim.

  13. Hi Jussi,
    The cases of bodily mutilation and mind-altering drugs are two of the cases I had in the back of my mind as test cases for the principle. (I assume you meant LSD and not LCD?) They would have been discussed in the post to be posted later. But maybe it would have been better to discuss them in a single post.

  14. What a mistake! Should read what I write… 4 days of conferencing makes one too tired to write anything sensible (LCD displays are bad for you brain too…) I’m looking forward to the further posting.
    I thought of even more extreme cases. Take any serious disability. The disability groups all claims (against Singer) that they have the right to be in that state. Of course, if there is a cure, they have a right to choose to take it. But, this should be their choice. I’m sure there is a way for others to make themselves to have the same disabilities – deaf, blind, mentally ill, physiologically not functioning, and so on. It’s not clear if they violate anyone else’s rights in doing so necessarily. You could imagine orphans who have money to hire help and so on. I’m suspicious about the idea that such people have right to make themselves disabled in these ways.

  15. Hi Kris,
    The other things (biological traits, virtue) that I list aren’t counterexamples. They are different kinds of intrinsic states, and I was mentioning them to give clear examples of intrinsic states that could get acquired in different ways. This relates to the wallet point which was meant to illustrate one particular way of acquiring something that did not give one a right to that thing.
    You haven’t specified why x’s having F gives x a right to F. Is it just because F is intrinsic? In which case your principle should read: x has intrinsic feature F, and *because* x has F, x has a right to F.
    I do agree though, after a second look, that the curative example is not a good counterexample.

  16. Hi Kris,
    I wasn’t complaining about your posting, you’ve got every right to post something I don’t understand. But I don’t really know what the principle says and hence I agreed with Jussi that I didn’t feel like I had enough to work with in assessing it. Part of that has to do with not knowing the conception of rights you are working with (as you suggest). Sometimes by saying a person has a right to X we mean that others ought not interfere with their getting X. At other times it seems people mean something stronger than this – that people owe them some assistance in getting X. Neither thought seems an abuse of the term ‘right’ to me. But the principle doesn’t tell me which one is being employed. I’m also not really sure what conception of intrinsic property is at work. Is being tasty or smart or witty intrinsic as you are thinking of the principle?
    You write:
    Mark wrote: “Your principle would seem to entail that such regulations should not be passed for fear of violating the rights of those who would do those actions to get the result of actions of that sort.”
    I don’t see why the principle alluded to has this consequence. Maybe it does, but we would need to do a lot of work seeing what exactly follows from someone having a moral right to something.

    I was trying to have a stab at your question assuming one interpretation of what the principle seemed to say.
    I thought that probably on your conception of a right to have F, if y has a right to have F then other people would be violating y’s right to F if they barred why from doing what she could to have F. So I went with that assumption in order to ask about another seeming feature of the principle – its use of modal terms like ‘can’. The principle seemed to say that if a person can get themselves to have an intrinsic property that another person has a right to have without violating anybody else’s right then they have a right to have that intrinsic property. My thought was that even if one person has something and a right to it the mere fact that some other person could get it without violating any rights was not enough to give them a right to have the property they don’t in fact already have. My thought was that even if the person could get it without violating any rights, if we stop them before they do so get it, it isn’t obvious that they have a right to it. So I was partly trying to find out if you meant the mere possibility of getting oneself to have F without violating any rights grounded the right you postulate, or whether you meant to be saying that if they in fact got it without violating any rights they had a right to it. From your answer to me it seems like it was the former interpretation (the one that requires only the possibility) and not the latter.
    Apart from the earlier example I think there are other reasons to doubt that since it can be true that one could get it without violating rights even when one does or has violated rights in order to get the thing in question.

  17. Jones has a genetic make-up XYZ. He has a moral right to have that genetic make-up – after all he has been born with the genes. Everyone has a right to carry the genes they have been born with.
    Jussi, is this true? Would it violate your right to your genes if, just after birth, an operation were performed on you that removed/modified a gene that incresed ten-fold your chances of getting liver cancer and otherwise did not affect you? Maybe so, but I can’t see it.
    Kris,
    (RIP): Suppose that some person x has intrinsic feature F; suppose that x has a moral right to have F. Suppose that some other person y can bring it about that y has F without violating anyone else’s moral rights. Then y has a moral right to have F.
    Let me abbreviate (RIP) as follows.
    x has F and has a right to property F; y can morally acquire F (i.e. acquire F w/o violating anyone’s rights), only if y has a right to property F.
    Consider, first, the second conjunct. Suppose y can morally acquire F. Does he have a right to F? That is, can it be true that (i) y can acquire F w/o violating anyone’s rights and (ii) I cannot prevent y from acquiring F w/o violating his rights? Suppose the intrinsic property F is something like having a healthy heart. Suppose Jones (who is not y) owns the miracle pill that would bring it about that anyone who takes it has a healthy heart. Could I purchase the last pill from Jones and prevent y from acquiring a healthy heart without violating his rights? Sure, I can. It would then make my heart healthy.
    But now consider x. We are supposing in (RIP) that x has F; that is, x has a healthy heart. I think there is no question that he has a moral right to it. If I do anything to bring it about that x’s heart is unhealthy, I do violate his rights. So it looks like (RIP) is false. x has a property F and a right to it; y can acquire F without violating anyone’s rights. But I can prevent y from acquiring F without violating any of his rights.

  18. Mike’s example makes me think that the famous Hohfeldian distinction between liberty-rights and claim-rights may be relevant here. If the right that y is said to have is a liberty-right, then Mike’s example is no counterexample to Kris’s principle. Roughly, S has a liberty-right to do X iff S has no duty to refrain from doing X. So you can prevent a person from getting that to which she has a liberty-right without thereby violating her right.
    This seems to be another ambiguity in the principle that Kris needs to clear up for us.

  19. Mike,
    that’s a good case. If I have now genes that make me likely to have cancer later on, my right would be violated if I was forced to have the genes manipulated. Of course, I can choose to have the manipulation by waiving the right (or if we understand rights as freedoms even this is not required). A new-born child is a tricky, special case because she is in no position to choose. Some people think that rights require abilities to make claims. That’s controversial of course. I could say that her right is not violated because the genetic manipulation would be what she would choose were she able to make an informed, autonomous decision.
    There are interesting issues to do with for example deafness. Can a newborn deaf child of deaf parents be forced to have an operation that gives her her hearing back or does she and her parents have a right to her deafness?

  20. . . .that’s a good case. If I have now genes that make me likely to have cancer later on, my right would be violated if I was forced to have the genes manipulated.
    Jussi, this is a little different. I didn’t say that someone forced you have the gene removed. I said they removed it right after birth, without your consent. In doing so would they deprive you of something that you have a right to? I can see how depriving someone of his limb or life would be depriving him of something he had a right to. But depriving him of a gene that threatens his life and otherwise has no positive effects does not seem to be depriving him of something he has a right to.
    Suppose you that during a minor operation to remove your appendix the surgeon discovers a life-threatening tumor that requires immediate attention. Would he be depriving you of something you have a right to if he removed it without your consent? Suppose it were possible for him to get your consent, but doing so would decrease your chances of survival by 50%. He can get your consent; must he do so in order to avoid violating a right? It’s hard to see how that might be right.

  21. I guess I could repeat this:
    “I could say that her right is not violated because the genetic manipulation would be what she would choose were she able to make an informed, autonomous decision.”
    If I have a freedom-right to something, then in normal circumstances my consent is required. Then there are circumstances where the consent cannot be acquired without harming me. In these cases, we can look at what my informed, autonomous choice would have been. Given that we all have a strong interest in survival, if there is no actual consent we can assume that I would make my choice based on that interest. In the child case, I guess I would give the choice to parents – whether they want their child to be treated or not.
    I can see plenty of people willing to choose to carry their genes even for their own harm. I don’t want to deny that they have a right to do so. Denying this, on the other hand, brings forward all the bad connotations of Nazism.
    Besides, one does not have to think of rights as absolute constraints that cannot be overriden by other considerations.

  22. Come to think of it, my example doesn’t require that we actually have a right to carry the genes we have. Kris’s principle allows me to *suppose* that we do and then think what will happen as a result. Supposing a right doesn’t require that the right really exists.

  23. I could say that her right is not violated because the genetic manipulation would be what she would choose were she able to make an informed, autonomous decision.
    Jussi,
    Sorry, I just missed that. A quick worry about the counterfactual explanation. In this case, for all we know, the closest worlds in which she is able to offer her consent are worlds in which genetic manipulation has been superceded by a superior treatment. In that case she would not consent to the genetic manipulation. Still, the genetic manipulation seems not to violate her rights.
    Or, perhaps, the closest worlds in which she is able to offer her consent are worlds in which it is too late for the genetic mnipulation to help, and so on. Again, the genetic manipulation seems not to violate her rights. But these are just problems endemic to counterfactual explanations/analyses in general, as I’m sure you know.

  24. I know its tricky. Assessing the closeness of different possible worlds is tough even if it makes sense. Maybe one could try some sort of other things being equal clause. Also one can adopt some version the advisor model. You can think of a suitable hypothetical version of the person in a evaluating world who is not in the same position but who is aware of her own plight in the evaluated world.

  25. I sympathize with the earlier comments from Jussi and Mark van Roojen to the effect that Kris has not given us enough.
    I admit that RIP can be evaluated using the method of reflective equilibrium – at least if we pretend to understand the key terms, “moral right” and “intrinsic property”. But like Jussi and Mark, I think that there is something methodologically out-of-order about jumping in to do this without a little more set-up.
    There are innumerable moral principles that we might evaluate. If our goal is to identify true moral principles, it is probably best to begin by evaluating those for which there is some sort of positive evidence. I suspect Kris has some evidence for this principle that he has not shared with us. But if he does, and if (again) our goal as a group is to discover the truth, he should present this evidence as well, so that we might also evaluate it.
    If, by the way, the evidence for this universal principle consists merely in certain controversial judgments concerning the theft of genetic material, the principle looks ad hoc, and therefore doubtful. Moreover, narrow covering principles generated in this way cannot be used to justify the intuitions from which they were extrapolated (that would be circular), so I do not really see the point in bothering to formulate them.
    In any case, I doubt that Kris’ principle is true. For what reason is there to think that people have moral rights to their intrinsic features?
    According to the liberal tradition, we have several important moral rights. These include rights to non-interference within various spheres of human life (e.g., the right to worship as one chooses, the right to say and print mostly what one wants, etc.). These rights, in turn, are arguably based upon the moral rights to life (to sustain one’s own life), liberty (to make life-defining choices for oneself), and the pursuit of happiness (achieving personal well-being). These moral rights protect one’s freedom to act as one sees fit to achieve these results provided that one does not thereby unreasonably restrain others from doing the same. Of course, restraint is a matter of degree, and so it is sometimes difficult to tell when one’s person action violates another person’s right. In addition, rights might conflict in certain cases. In addition, other sorts of moral considerations might override rights.
    Then, there are property rights. I fit them into the liberal framework like this: they, too, are based on the rights to life and the pursuit of happiness (as described above). The basic reason that one has a right to hold property is that doing so (in the real world at any rate) is necessary for keeping oneself alive and flourishing. Moreover, a system in which everyone has this same right has variuos further positive consequences. (I interpret and justify the right to one’s own body in roughly the same way, though it is also derived from the right to liberty.)
    If there is a moral right to one’s intrinsic features, then it presumably must be analogous – in form and purpose – to property rights. But on closer inspection, this supposed analogy is hard to understand.
    First, a right to one’s intrinsic features would be quite different from the right to hold / use / exclude others from using physical objects (e.g., shoves, cars, apples). If someone else takes my genetic code (e.g., by stealing one of my hair follicles), this in no way prevents me from continuing to use my genetic code. Consequently, I need be no worse off in terms of life, liberty, or well-being.
    Second, a right to one’s intrinsic features seems quite different from rights to intellectual property. The rationale, as I see it, for intellectual property rights is that they enable writers, musicians, computer programmers, etc. to make a living by selling their creations. This has benefits with respect to life, liberty, and well-being, for the creators, and for the public at large. Making these lines of work profitable enables those who need to work to pursue them. This benefits everyone. For otherwise, only the independently wealthy would be able to dedicate themselves full-time to writing, recording music, writing software, etc. But genetic codes are not (currenlty, at least!) created through productive effort, and so we do not need to protect the conditions that make their creation possible.
    Perhaps Kris (or someone else) can provide an example of an intrinsic property that can be stolen (in a way that excludes its original owner from enjoying its benefits) – or that is created and/or maintained through productive activity, which can ALSO be stolen. Perhaps there is another important class of rights that I have overlooked. Otherwise, I think there is good reason to deny that people have a moral right to their intrinsic features.

  26. I don’t know whether Kris’s principle is true or not, or why he thinks it’s true. But I take it the principle could be true even if nobody has a right to their intrinsic features. The principle is a conditional.

  27. “Suppose” can be interpreted in various ways. But suppose we interpret the several “suppose”s like this:
    RIP: If x has a moral right to have intrinsic feature F, then: if some other person y can bring it about that they (y) have F without violating anyone else’s moral rights, then they (y) have a moral right to have F.
    Interpreted in this way, RIP may not be false. It is certainly not false for the reasons I gave earlier. But what is the interest of a moral principle with a false antecedent?

  28. For the record, the principle was intended to interpreted as Jason formulated it, i.e.,:
    RIP: If x has a moral right to have intrinsic feature F, then: if some other person y can bring it about that they (y) have F without violating anyone else’s moral rights, then they (y) have a moral right to have F.
    (That is, the suppositions were in effect antecedents of a conditional.)
    It doesn’t seem to me that the principle has a false antecedent. Let me give an example in which it looks like the antecedent is satisfied.
    If you are sitting and then you stand up, your intrinsic features have changed: your shape has changed. If you do some yoga, you’ll enjoy a lot of intrinsic change in a short period. Couldn’t someone have a right to be in the downward dog position? The right is defeasible of course; if my being in downward dog would crush a small baby, I ought not to get in downward dog. You see me trying out some yoga, and you think that looks like fun. (It’s not.) It seems to me that you also have a (defeasible) right to be in downward dog.
    Being happy and being alive might well be intrinsic properties. (I’m more confident that the former is intrinsic than the latter.) Being free from pain seems to me to be intrinsic as well. People talk as if they think they have rights to have these features: “I have the right to be happy”, “I have the right to be free from pain”, “I have the right to be alive.” I’m not saying that they do have these rights, but if they do, the principle’s antecedent is not empty.
    More generally, anyone who thinks that she has a right to have her body be as she wants– that is, have her body have the intrinsic features that she wants it to have– and thinks she is her body will think that the antecdent has many true instances.
    People do talk this way. They say things like “I have a right to have my body be how I want it to be.” Or “I have a right to do what I want with my body.” But of course there are lots of ways my body could be, and lots of things I could do with my body. One thing I might want to do with my body is suffocate someone else by being on top of him. And of course I don’t have a right to do suffocate some else by being on top of him. So I take the central idea lying behind the slogan to be that I have a right to have my body be intrinsically how I want it to be. (Such a right is clearly trumpable by other considerations. If how I want my body to be intrinsically requires punching someone in the nose — it’s a crowded subway and I want to stretch — I ought not do it, since that would harm someone else, and so interfere with that person’s rights.)
    As a side note, I am astonished that people have views about what is methodologically out of order in a blog post. But I guess philosophers are apt to have views on any subject.
    But I see now that the notion of a moral right is probably too contentious and murky to be used without saying something about what having a right entails. So let me try to remedy this. First, it seems to me that any rights-claim can be harmlessly reformulated as the right to have a certain property. Some examples:
    I have a right to be alive iff I have the right to exemplify the property of being alive.
    I have a right to this painting iff I have a right to exemplify the property of having his painting.
    (These bi-conditionals might be a little odd, but does anyone who believes that the left hand side is satisfied have a serious worry about the right hand side not being satisfied?)
    With that in mind, consider the following stipulative definition:
    x has a minimal moral right to property P =df. it is prima facie permissible for x to have P; it is prima facie permissible for x to acquire P; it is prima facie prermissible for x to maintain that x has P; for any person y, it is prima facie obligatory that y refrain from bringing it about that x has not-P.
    As mentioned, the notion of a minimal moral right is stipulative — I don’t think it captures all of what has been intended by talk about rights. However, the notion is reasonably clear. The notion of a minimal moral right defined above appeals only to the notions of prima facie permisibility, prima facie obligation, having a property, and maintaining that one has that property. I take it that these notions are better understood than the notion of a moral right, and that they are sufficiently clear that one make use of them to formulate, contemplate, or argue for or against ethical principles.
    That said, consider RIP* (the variables range over only persons):
    If some x has a minimal moral right to have intrinsic feature F, then for all y, y has a minimal moral right to have F.
    I need to think some more about whether some of the worries raised about RIP are worries about RIP*. (I’m pretty confident that Jussi’s cases involving extreme mutilation and mind-altering drugs seem to have equal force against RIP and RIP*, but am not sure about the others.) The main idea is that all persons have the same minimal moral rights to be in the same intrinsic states.

  29. As a side note, I am astonished that people have views about what is methodologically out of order in a blog post. But I guess philosophers are apt to have views on any subject.
    I agree. If readers feel they’ve not been given enough information, it’s easy enough for them to request more (as some did). No need to complain about not being given it to start with.

  30. Kris, you write,
    You see me trying out some yoga, and you [say S] think that looks like fun. (It’s not.) It seems to me that you [S] also have a (defeasible) right to be in downward dog.
    I take it that this right is, at least, a minimal moral right in the sense defined. If so, then it is prima facie obligatory for me to refrain from preventing S from taking that yoga position. But this is where I’m missing the intuition about your principle. I can see that if X is in the yoga position P, then, other things equal, he has a right to be in that position. I would be violating that right if I simply, what, knocked him over. But I can’t see how I’m depriving S of any right if, simply out of spite, I took the last open position on the mat and prevented him from taking position P. Or if I bought the last video showing how to get into position P. How would that be depriving him of something that he has a right to? Or, to put it the other way, I can’t see how I have even a prima facie obligation to refrain from doing those things.

  31. Hi Mike,
    I see the worry. It looks like I need to spend more time thinking about what ‘refraining from bringing it about that not-p” entails. There is a sense in which your taking the last yoga mat or buying the last tape does not prevent x from being in the position. x could still get in the position, but it will be much harder or painful. (This is the sense in which one can do something that one does not know how to do.) Whereas knocking x over ensures that x is not in the position. But I don’t want to rest too much on this sense. Any advice on how to characterize the difference?

  32. Right. There is a sense in which S still could get into P. He might get into P by accident, say, not having any idea how he did it. But suppose I do something that makes it impossible (in the relevant sense) for S to get into P. Suppose S cannot get into P unless he can mitigate his chronic cramping. I have the sole antidote in vial V. There are no other sources and no one else knows that formula. Out of spite (gosh, I’m getting nastier) I decide not to offer it to S. Does he have a right to V? My sense is that he doesn’t. Maybe there is a way to manage these cases; maybe others have the intuition that I do violate S’s right in not offering him V. I wouldn’t mind being convinced that my sense of the case is wrong.

  33. If you are sitting and then you stand up, your intrinsic features have changed: your shape has changed. If you do some yoga, you’ll enjoy a lot of intrinsic change in a short period. Couldn’t someone have a right to be in the downward dog position?
    Yes, a person might have a right to stand up, or to get in the downward dog position. (It depends on the situation.) Various other recognized moral rights might be reformulated as rights to instantiate various intrinsic features.
    But I still do not see the importance of the category “rights to instantiate intrinsic features.” This category does not seem to have much unity. Consider the right to assume the position downward dog. Isn’t this more naturally regarded as an application of the right to liberty, to make choices for oneself and act on them, so long as one does not impede others’ ability to do the same? Doesn’t regarding it in this way do a better job of explaining its prima facie normative significance? That it can also be fit in the category “rights to instantiate intrinsic features” seems almost like an accident.
    I suspect that the interesting moral-political categories (e.g., categories of rights) are best specified using technical concepts from ethics and politics, while the fundamental metaphysical categories (e.g., categories of properties) will correspond to the traditional technical vocabulary of metaphysics.

  34. Kris,
    It occurs to me that this reformulation of RIP might avoid the problems I mentioned.
    Here’s the original RIP,
    RIP: If x has a moral right to have intrinsic feature F, then: if some other person y can bring it about that they (y) have F without violating anyone else’s moral rights, then they (y) have a moral right to have F.
    Here’s the reformulation,
    RIP: If x has a moral right to have intrinsic feature F, then: if some other person y brings it about that he (y) has F without violating anyone else’s moral rights, then they (y) have a moral right to have F.
    The only change I made is from ‘can bring it about that’ to ‘brings it about that’. This avoids the problem of another person preventing y from bringing about F. The assumption in the antecedent is that y does bring it about (not just that he can).
    It is a conditional, of course, so the analysis does have the implication that, for instance, y has a moral right to Smith’s healthy kidneys. This will follow trivially from RIP and a false antecedent. The false antecdent that x does not having a moral right to healthy Smith-kidney’s. Perhaps this is not a big worry, since it won’t be possible to detach the unwlecome consequent.

  35. Well if Smith is x, then he does have a right to his healthy Smith-kidneys, and the antecedent would be true. But, if y were to bring it about that y had healthy Smith-kidneys, he probably will have violated Smith’s rights. But you never know! Maybe Smith needs some money.

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