Normative strategies for resolving human rights conflicts

Eugene Thomas Rice, Marquette University


A central philosophical issue within the realm of human rights is how to settle conflicts involving rights. In everyday life rights often appear to conflict not only with other rights but with other moral considerations as well. Most philosophers writing on the issue take a moderate position, i.e., they believe that an individual's general rights may sometimes be justifiably overridden by competing considerations. However, circumscribing and justifying the acceptable trade-offs is the source of controversy, especially since philosophers approach the issue from different normative perspectives. The two most prominent approaches in the larger rights debate are consequentialism and various forms of deontology. A central hallmark of deontologists is their opposition to the "maximizing" tendencies of consequentialists, charging that such an aggregative resolution strategy demotes rights from the serious moral status that they should enjoy. Partly because of such accusations, it is often believed that deontologists of any stripe have an advantage in defending a rights-inclusive moral theory. However, moderate deontologists, for the most part, have not seriously considered the complex issues involved in satisfactorily resolving rights conflict scenarios. Even more troubling, those thinkers that have proposed solutions often appear inconsistent with their own normative approach or suggest resolution models that look a good deal like consequentialism. In this dissertation I will review the overarching structural problem of rights conflicts and then consider the three most explicit deontic resolution strategies offered to date. I will evaluate them according to three criteria: their breadth in handling the various types of conflict cases, the intuitive appeal of the elements involved in the strategy and, finally, the consistency of the model in relation to the other components of the philosopher's normative approach. I conclude that two of the three basic approaches are flawed and that the third model is incomplete. In the final chapter I consider a few broad objections to my general conclusions, and I close by arguing that any acceptable deontic resolution strategy is likely one that is able consistently to admit and weigh a variety of non-rights factors in evaluating rights conflict cases.

Recommended Citation

Rice, Eugene Thomas, "Normative strategies for resolving human rights conflicts" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059384.