Negative and positive rights  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Philosophers and political scientists make a distinction between negative and positive rights (not to be confused with the distinction between negative and positive liberties). According to this view, positive rights usually oblige action, whereas negative rights usually oblige inaction. These obligations may be of either a legal or moral character. The notion of positive and negative rights may also be applied to liberty rights.

To take an example involving two parties in a court of law: Adrian has a negative right to x against Clay if and only if Clay is prohibited from acting upon Adrian in some way regarding x. In contrast, Adrian has a positive right to x against Clay if and only if Clay is obliged to act upon Adrian in some way regarding x. A case in point, if Adrian has a negative right to life against Clay, then Clay is required to refrain from killing Adrian; while if Adrian has a positive right to life against Clay, then Clay is required to act as necessary to preserve the life of Adrian.

Rights considered negative rights may include civil and political rights such as freedom of speech, life, private property, freedom from violent crime, freedom of worship, habeas corpus, a fair trial, freedom from slavery.

Rights considered positive rights, as initially proposed in 1979 by the Czech jurist Karel Vasak, may include other civil and political rights such as police protection of person and property and the right to counsel, as well as economic, social and cultural rights such as food, housing, public education, employment, national security, military, health care, social security, internet access, and a minimum standard of living. In the "three generations" account of human rights, negative rights are often associated with the first generation of rights, while positive rights are associated with the second and third generations.

Some philosophers (see criticisms) disagree that the negative-positive rights distinction is useful or valid.

Overview

Under the theory of positive and negative rights, a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another person or group—a government, for example—usually in the form of abuse or coercion. A positive right is a right to be subjected to an action of another person or group. In theory, a negative right forbids others from acting against the right holder, while a positive right obligates others to act with respect to the right holder. In the framework of the Kantian categorical imperative, negative rights can be associated with perfect duties while positive rights can be connected to imperfect duties.

Belief in a distinction between positive and negative rights is usually maintained, or emphasized, by libertarians, who believe that positive rights do not exist until they are created by contract. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists both positive and negative rights (but does not identify them as such). The constitutions of most liberal democracies guarantee negative rights, but not all include positive rights. Nevertheless, positive rights are often guaranteed by other laws, and the majority of liberal democracies provide their citizens with publicly funded education, health care, social security and unemployment benefits.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Negative and positive rights" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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