Are human rights too costly?

 Critics of the institution of human rights have often argued that the cost of realizing human rights for everyone is too enormous to impose on social institutions responsible for providing those rights. The argument about cost of implementation is mainly between choice theorists and benefit theorists. Choice theorists endorse first generation rights, and claim that second and third generation rights too costly, and it would be unreasonable to pursue all these rights for everyone.  Benefit theorists who advocate for second generation rights, rebut this by claiming that one cannot really survive or live a minimally decent life without material objects and resources.

    Choice theorists recognize that human rights are meant to impose costs on us, but the amount of cost imposed is a vital question. First generation rights include: right to freedom and liberty, right to free speech, right to political participation, and all due process rights.Choice theorists submit that first generation rights are the only human rights that can be claimed and provided for all persons, with as little implementation of cost as possible. The right to one’s personal space, for example, is easy to achieve because all one is required to do in adherence and respect of this right, is stay out of another’s personal space. That doesn’t require or impose a colossal cost on anyone. Neither does it take much for one person to require another not to interfere with his/her life, or respect one's right to freedom. Choice theorists claim that all these rights are reasonable and affordable unlike second-generation rights, which ask and cost too much.

    The cost of achieving the material objects that benefit theorists advocate for, has been criticized as too much and unreasonable. Second generation rights include: right to education, right to welfare, right to health care, right to social security, right to be employed, and the right to housing. Benefit theorists argue that one's primary human rights are inherently implied by achieving and fulfilling one's second genereation rights. They argue that the primary human rights of a person are inherently implied by observing and achieving one's second generation rights. Hence, by realizing one's right to basic health care, we are protecting that person from dangerous diseases that will threaten that person's right to personal security, and preventing him/her from living a minimally decent life. A minimally decent life is the bare minimum that society can afford for it's inhabitants, and doesn't connote a great/happy/lavish or comfortable life, because the latter are subjective.

Choice theorists dismiss this, and countervail that the need for material objects can be achieved by one using his/her own personal property. But what about those people who do not have any property? Those who are poor and cannot even afford a meal, let alone the means to basic health care? It might be worth it to have a plan that ensures the protection of such people, through a basic health care plan for everyone, because this would protect people from dangerous diseases.

    Benefit theorists also claim that people should have the right to a clean environment: right to clean drinkable water, and the right to basic education. Even though all these might come at a cost, it seems reasonable to pursue them because they avail people the chance of living a minimally decent life, and ensure personal security. The right to basic education for example, ensures that people are informed about the right choices they can make in order to preserve their health. Also, the right to education helps people better understand their due process rights, right to political participation - which first choice theorists defend.

    The question of implementation of cost can be met in a number of ways. First, we need to indentify which human rights are vital requirements for all persons to live minimally decent lives, because we as a society can only provide the bare minimum for people to get on with their lives. Secondly, we have a duty not to violate people’s vital needs, if doing that will only impose a reasonable cost on us. Judith Thomson’s analogy of the violinist( )is a good illustration of what costs are reasonable and affordable, and worth pursuing, and which ones are not. As a society, we are in position to only provide the bare minimum for people to live a minimally decent life. We cannot provide expensive houses, cars, video games or cell phones for everybody, because these objects are expensive and irrelevant to human rights. Just like the violinist is not entitled to use your body against your will because it poses such a tremendous cost to you, we might not be in position to fulfill everyone’s vital needs, if those needs will impose unreasonable correlative duties on us. We don't have an obligation to provide for everyone whatever they need to get by in their daily lives, because that would be unreasonable, and some wants are not vital for people to live minimal decent lives.

    Most second generation rights are just as vital as first generation rights, and can be pursued at a reasonable cost. Everyone should be entitled to basic health care, like immunization against dangerous diseases, without which we are prone to premature death. Also, the right to a clean environment, and the right to clean drinkable water might be worth pursuing because these might also protect our right to personal security. The argument made by choice theorists therefore, doesn’t hold water, because for one to live a minimally decent life, one should be protected from dangerous diseases, and this shouldn’t be hard to achieve especially since we have the resources available to do so. The issue of reasonable cost is not scientifically determined, rather, it is about which values society wants to pursue: which priorities it deems significant.

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Human rights: Concept and Context by Brian Orend



Is the right to drinkable water justifiable as a human right?


A claim is a demand or request for something considered as one’s due. When a person proposes that a certain right be introduced, the burden of proof falls on that person to attest that the right in question is in fact a vital need, and that its object is implied by the meaning of one of the foundational five. The foundational five human rights are: right to equality, subsistence, liberty, security and recognition (Brian Orend- Human rights:Concept and context).

Arguments for:

The right to drinkable water would qualify as a third-generation right, because it ties in with the right to a clean environment. More importantly, the right to drinkable water is related to the right to personal security, because if one’s health is threatened, then one’s personal security is also compromised. Everyone must want to claim the foundational five because they are essential for one to pursue anything else they want in life. Whatever it is you want to pursue, depends on whether or not you have the foundational five. The right to drinkable water is therefore important because one has to be in good health if he or she is going to pursue his/her interests and goals in life. Also, if people have a right to clean water, then they are much more protected against dangerous diseases, which might rise from drinking unsafe, unclean and dirty water. Lack of clean water is a big threat to health, and if we have the resources to make sure that everyone has access to clean drinkable water, then there is no reason why this shouldn’t be provided and made accessible to everyone. Also, one can appeal to the consequentialist theory that people’s functionality will be increased. If people are availed the right to drinkable water, their subjective happiness will increase, and disease and suffering will be decrease. The world would be a better place if everyone had access to drinkable water, because that would decrease disease and increase happiness, and decrease the mortality rate.

Furthermore, one has to prove that introducing the right to drinkable water wouldn’t impose unreasonable and unbearable correlative duties on others. The cost of providing a human right that's essential for one to live a minimally decent life cannot ever add up to the point where such provision would get in the way of other people leading their lives. I think that the right to drinkable water would impose reasonable costs on everyone, because realizing this right doesn’t require that we use every available resource. There are some cheap and accessible ingredients that can be added to water, to make it drinkable. And even if it did actually require an additional cost to make sure that everyone had access to drinkable water, I think it would be a worthwhile venture, because it ensures that people are protected from some diseases, and their right to personal security is preserved. Additionally, I think that providing drinkable water would ensure a minimally decent life for everyone. For one to live a minimally decent life, one needs to be in good health. I think the right of drinkable water, among other things, would procure that. Also, according to Rawls’ reflective equilibrium, the best strategy for justifying a moral or political claim, is by using a balanced, reasonable, sincere, experienced, and non ideological criteria as opposed to simply appealing to the first principle or consequences. Claiming a right to drinkable water would be done primarily because it is a vital need for oneself, but would also require that one respect other people’s same claim because one wants those people to also respect one’s own claim, moreover, one wants an enhanced quality of life, and diminished disease in the society in which one lives. One’s entitlement to drinkable water as a right, would require that he or she also respect the right that another has to the same right or a similar right. This is not too much to ask, and sure isn’t unreasonable or unaffordable.


On the flip side however, there is a concern that if we keep introducing new rights, we will fall victim of human rights inflation. In other words, the number of objects claimed as human rights will continue to rise, the more we introduce new rights, and human rights laws. Critics of human rights inflation, think it is ridiculous that we continue to let people claim any objects they want as human rights, and think that the concept of human rights has been stretched far beyond to allow things that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Although this is a fair assessment, I think that introducing the right to drinkable water shouldn’t be seen as one of the many contributions to human rights inflation. The right to drinkable water ensures personal security, and ability for a person to live a healthy and minimally decent life. If someone is not in good health, he or she is not in position to claim other rights, or enjoy and pursue any interests that she or he might have. Unlike other ideas that might be created just to ensure that people live a luxurious and quality life, the right to drinkable water, is no such luxurious material object that people seek. It cannot be compared to someone proposing the right to a house and a car, or a right to smoke indoors. The right to drinkable water is a vital need that people need to stay in good health. If critics of human rights inflation are willing to submit personal security as a human right, then the right to a clean environment, along with the right to drinkable water, should be considered, because it is only by having a clean environment that one’s health is ensured, and personal security preserved.

I think that introducing the right to drinkable water would be worthwhile. Although it might impose a certain cost on us, it is not unreasonable or tremendous enough for us not to realize and pursue it as a human right. The right to drinkable water will prevent disease and premature death, which will compromise our personal security, and which might further prevent us from realizing other rights. More importantly, this right is crucial for us to live a minimally decent life.


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Are Human Rights Universal?


The two main core principles of human rights are universality and equality. Some people have been reluctant to adopt the institution of human rights, and have written off this concept as another twisted ploy that the western world wants to play on the rest of the world. Critics of human rights claim that since human rights originated from the west, they are just another concept that the western world came up with to try and dominate the non-western world. This argument is in part triggered by the fact that there are a number of other historical crimes that were committed by the western world against the non-western world. The non-western world is thus reluctant to embrace the theory of human rights because of its origin. They claim that it is no accident that human rights originated from the west after the Second World War. They see this as the western world using their dominant powers against the non-western world, and therefore don’t believe in the universality of human rights. In response to these claims, human rights activists have argued that the non-western world is arguing in bad faith. The concept of human rights was developed to ensure that everyone has a claim to a minimally good life, and dismissing it as a western concept is a weak argument in bad faith because the opponents have a vested interest in human rights not being recognized in their own society, and thus use this as an excuse for not achieving human rights. The rights codified in human rights documents enforce equality, universality of all people. Nothing about these rights suggests western bias, or prejudice.

Human rights activist further argue that this western bias argument against the universality of human rights is a genetic fallacy. The idea was born from western civilization, but that doesn’t imply that its application only extends to the west. The west was the first to come up with the idea, because they needed the idea most, after the holocaust, and other religious wars that they occurred in the western world. The non-western world is opposed to human rights because they don’t like where it came from. Nonetheless, many non-western nations have ratified the UN charter and the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which stand to defend and enforce human rights. If these countries did not believe in human rights being universal, they would not have ratified those documents. They were under no obligation to sign on, but they did anyway, because they were aware that these documents enforced the universality and equality of human rights. Some non-western countries have even gone as far as drafting their own charters that respect human rights. If human rights were indeed a western concept meant to exploit the non-western world in some form, then how would these people explain the success of human rights laws in their own societies? After all, they created these laws without any coercion or compulsion from the western world. Why would they feel the need to pay lip service to western ideas, if they don’t believe in them? Therefore, even though the idea of human rights is a western concept, they are meant to be enjoyed by all, and are genuinely equal and universal. Every idea has a history, and this just happens to have originated in the west, but that doesn’t imply that they are exclusive to the western world.

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