Monday, September 2, 2019

Gewirth and Nagel :: Alan Gewirth Thomas Nagel Rights Essays

Gewirth and Nagel One difference between Alan Gewirth’s defense of absolutism and that offered by Thomas Nagel is that Nagel concedes that it can be wrong to fail to violate absolute prohibitions (or absolute rights) in order to prevent catastrophic consequences whereas Gewirth does not. Explain what you regard as the most important advantages and disadvantages of each author’s position. Which one has the more compelling defense of absolutism? Rights delineate a space around individuals that must be respected. The study of rights is a struggle to understand how rights may be prioritized, and in what cases the interests of someone may overcome the rights of another. Gewirth and Nagel are both asking whether there are rights which may not be overridden, even in the case where it seems that overriding them would serve some greater common good. They call these rights ‘absolute.’ Gewirth is attempting to show that there are such rights, and that respecting them does not conflict with the rights of others. Nagel, on the other hand, believes that some situations require the violation of the rights of one or another, and argues that absolutism can provide important criteria attempts for determining how to evaluate claims in such events. Gewirth’s conclusion rests upon a strict delineation of responsibility, so that a responsible actor can always be identified for a violation of rights, and other actors can always avoid violating another’s absolute right. This formulation appears to be too strong. It is also limited in that it requires the identification of an actor; there are situations in which it offers us no help in evaluating right action. But, while Gewirth’s formulation is problematic in practice, it is powerful in that it offers a coherent, consistent defense of absolute rights. Nagel is not interested in justifying absolute rights, but in articulating actions that are prohibited. His belief is that the world is an imperfect place; that fear and human cruelty will always present difficult moral situations, and that therefore, establishing criteria to deal with these less than ideal situations is essential. He also argues, unlike Gewirth, that one can be confronted with two choices, both of whose outcomes are bad, and for both of which one bears responsibility. Thus, he asks, when both respecting and violating an absolute right are wrong, what is the morally right thing to do?

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