Talk:Negative and positive rights

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This article was created by merging the previously existing articles negative right and positive right. The discussion records from their respective Talk pages may be found at:

Hi. I don't know how this actually works. Someone should take a look at the second sentence. That certainly can't be right. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:43, 21 November 2009 (UTC)

New Discussion[edit]

  • My understanding of negative rights is that they necessarily do not conflict with one another. Any thoughts? - Brer_Vole Jan 26 2006
  • What would a list of negative rights be? (The list of positive rights seem endless....) - Brer_Vole Jan 26 2006

Moved from article[edit]

Critics draw attention to the issue of enforcement of negative rights. They argue that negative rights need to be enforced, and this enforcement requires positive action - for example, the right to private property implies that some action must be taken, either by the owner or by an agency such as the government, to repel anyone who attempts to steal that property (or to recover the property after it has been stolen). This has led to the idea that, in practical legal terms, a "negative right" is just a positive right to be provided with police protection against certain actions by other persons.[1]

Another criticism holds that any right can be made to appear either positive or negative depending on the language used to define it. For instance, the right to be free from starvation is considered positive by libertarians on the grounds that it implies a starving person must be provided with food through the positive action of others. On the other hand, according to James P. Sterba:

"What is at stake is the liberty of the poor not to be interfered with in taking from the surplus possessions of the rich what is necessary to satisfy their basic needs. Needless to say, libertarians would want to deny that the poor have this liberty. But how could they justify such a denial? As this liberty of the poor has been specified, it is not a positive right to receive something, but a negative right of non-interference."
I think we have some clear neutrality, citation, and original research concerns. My feeling is that we'd be doing ourselves (and the readers) a service if we simply deleted this page, and merged/redirected negative and positive rights to Positive Liberty and Negative Liberty. Sam Spade 23:28, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

I completely disagree. For one thing, how exactly do we have any citation concerns? Both those criticisms are well cited. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 23:30, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

The quote is cited to one James P. Sterba. The "critics" are not cited however, but i assume they include Sterba and Stephen Holmes? Do you have an example of either of them using the phrase positive, or Negative rights? If so i'm not sure it justifies this article (which i feel should be deleted and the contents of positive and negative rights merged into postive and negative liberty), but at least it would justify the inclusion of their POV in this article. My assumption is their talking about positive and and negative liberties. Sam Spade 23:35, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

Ummm, have you read the quote through? The last sentence says: "As this liberty of the poor has been specified, it is not a positive right to receive something, but a negative right of non-interference." -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 23:38, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

Sorry, I should have noted that, and was hasty in moving the content to talk. Ok, so these terms are used by mr. sterba, and presumably others. Can you clear it up for me how they differ from positive and negative liberties? Sam Spade 23:41, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

Well, I would say that rights are more of a legal concept, while liberties are more of a philosophical one; also, any right can be seen as promoting some liberties at the expense of others. For example, if you have a right to life, this promotes all the liberty you gain from being alive while restricting someone else's liberty to kill you. -- Mihnea Tudoreanu 23:52, 29 December 2005 (UTC)
Excellent! You've completely clarified our difference of opinion. Your equate rights with laws. I, on the other hand generally dislike and disrespect laws, seeing them as guidelines involuntarily foisted upon me and others. A Right, on the other hand, I see as something holy, related intrinsically with the word Righteousness, and the concept of "doing what is right". I am beginning to see the value of separate articles, altho Postive and Negative Liberties should be discussed here in detail. Now we just need to articulate what a balanced assortment of expert personages feel about these terms (rather than only the 2 critics ;) Sam Spade 00:00, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
If you, for example, think that it's immoral for someone to come along and attack you when you're not harming anyone (regardless of whether it's legal or illegal), then you think that you have a moral "negative" right to not be attacked (and as a corallary, a right to defend yourself from the attacker). Maybe you don't think you have a moral claim to your life --i don't know, but that's the idea of moral rights. So, in the context of ethics (which is usually what one is talking about when it comes to negative and positive rights), you can have a right to not be attacked by others at the same time as not having a right to force others to defend your life. And, if someone attacks you, it doesn't mean you suddenly lost that your right during the attack but simply that your right was violated. This is what Jefferson is talking about when he says individuals have "inalienable rights" --no matter what the law is, people have a moral right not to have their liberty forcibly obstructed by others. If government makes a law to enslave all blacks for example, blacks haven't lost their moral right to liberty --it's just that that right is violated. Their justification for escaping from bondage is a the immorality of their domination --just because slavery is legal it doesn't make escape immoral. This quote from Jefferson makes the point: "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." RJII 20:26, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
Hence Natural law. Moral relativism be damned, there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong! Nice touch w the Jefferson quote btw, he and Theodore Roosevelt are my favorite presidents :D Sam Spade 23:36, 30 December 2005 (UTC)
There certainly is such a thing as absolute right and wrong (in my opinion), but it does not involve rights. I am a utilitarian. Anyway, the Jefferson quote is about rights, but how is it about negative and positive rights? -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 00:52, 31 December 2005 (UTC)

Different conceptions of rights[edit]

Our article rights is largely about rights as a legal concept. Probably we should have more there about morally and theologically derived theories of right, such as those of the School of Salamanca. I'd suggest laying some solid groundwork in that article—not another rehash of people's personal views, but some decently cited material—then coming back here and building on that foundation. -- Jmabel | Talk 05:53, 31 December 2005 (UTC)

I agree, the personal opinions were just for fun, and to get a better idea of what the hell we were talking about, and where we agreed and disagreed. Mihnea (niko) has mentioned he plans to add more cites, but since his 2 so far are of a similar POV, I think we should hunt about for opposing views to cite as well. Sam Spade 16:08, 31 December 2005 (UTC)

An example of a well-written, well-sourced article on rights.[edit]

Human Rights at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy might serve as a good model for where we should be heading with this, although we don't need quite that level of detail, I wouldn't think. It might also be a good source for citable authorities that aren't book reviews. They refer to "positive rights" and "negative rights" as "claim rights" and "liberty rights" respectively. I agree that this article here, as it stands now, contains borderline original research. -GTBacchus(talk) 21:03, 31 December 2005 (UTC)

This article desperately needs citations[edit]

This article desperately needs citations. Right now it is mostly a duelling opinion-fest. By rights (so to speak) someone could cut almost the entire article to the talk page. -- Jmabel | Talk 00:15, 1 January 2006 (UTC)

And this has only gotten worse in the days since I wrote that, with the insertion of more uncited opinion as to what people of political views (in this case, libertarian) would say. -- Jmabel | Talk 20:07, 6 January 2006 (UTC)
I agree. I have removed the uncited opinion - this, however, only gets us back at square one. -- Nikodemos (f.k.a. Mihnea) 09:57, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

Since which it has again gotten worse: "Some theorists ... On the other hand, critics ... " - Jmabel | Talk 05:56, 26 April 2006 (UTC)

True. Even worse, the criticisms are poorly made. I understand NPOV, but it's not served well simply by including criticism when the criticism is logically invalid. For example, the issue of enforcement is brought up, but clearly an individual can STOP other people from messing with them for negative rights, but must clearly mess with other people to get their positive rights. RussNelson 07:24, 1 October 2006 (UTC)

a libertarian thing?[edit]

I removed the edits in the article that were said that the conception of negative and positive rights was a "libertarian" thing (e.g. "Belief in a distinction between positive and negative rights is usually maintained, or emphasised, by classical liberals and libertarians on the political right who oppose the provision of positive rights.) It's not true. It's a common concept in political philosophy. Libertarians even don't think positive rights exist, so why would they be putting forth such a position? Those who advocate welfare are the ones that argue there is such a thing as positive rights (usually called secondary rights). Libertarians would probably like the idea of "positive rights" to disappear. RJII 03:35, 16 May 2006 (UTC)

    • GeMiJa Additions 2014-06-11 **

It would be more correct to define libertarianism as a principle which stipulates negative rights and are phrased as inactions of government ; such as , " A state shall not ... " . The extremes of libertarianism establish individualism to an extent which precedes citizen membership according to a social civil contract of a state constitution . Thus , you statement that " Libertarians even don't think positive rights exist,... " is succinct precisely by definition . By formal definition of political philosophy , libertarianism and authoritarianism are antonyms . Hence , positive rights exist because of authoritarian actions of government , whether to establish negative liberties ( prohibiting one citizen from acting against another ) or to establish positive liberties ( forcing one citizen to act on behalf of another ) . This issue is highly important - else a society could be resigned to suffer - GeMiJa (talk) 02:56, 12 June 2014 (UTC)GeMiJa

I hope I'm just having a bad dream[edit]

Positive rights - negative rights ? Who came up with these outageous concepts and terms? 'Positive rights' sounds like plain mumbo jumbo. 'Negative rights' sounds like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, like "war is peace" or "love is hate". Shannonduck talk 04:54, 14 July 2006 (UTC)

This article and the whole twisted concept of positive rights and negative rights is making me ill in it's obvious attempt to gain control of people's minds and get them to believe that socialism is good (positive), and freedom in a government with little meddling (the one the U.S. was intended to have by the patriots) is bad. Yechhh. Shannonduck talk 16:02, 15 July 2006 (UTC)

I think you're misinterpreting this subject. The theory of negative and positive rights is primarily important to classical liberals, Libertarians and philosophical individualists, who use it to respond to arguments based on (for example) a theoretical right to education, health care, social security or a minimum standard of living; by dividing proposed rights into those that they say involve the removal of coercion (in other words, negative rights, since they remove something) and those that they claim require active intervention (a positive right, since it requires providing something), they are able to reject or question the latter class while embracing the former. Socialists et all, who define coercion more broadly, would not find the distinction as meaningful. --Aquillion 21:20, 18 July 2006 (UTC)
I concur totally with Aquillion on this. You will never find people on the left making this distinction (unless you count some libertarians as on the left, which doesn't change the matter). - Jmabel | Talk 17:15, 23 July 2006 (UTC)
BTW, another way the advocates of this distinction might put this is that a "negative right" is the right to be left alone, "positive right" is the right to receive something; they would argue along the lines that the latter are illegitimate because they create a positive obligation on others, violating their right to be left alone. - Jmabel | Talk 17:18, 23 July 2006 (UTC)

"Libertarians and classical liberals"[edit]

"…although generally considered negative by libertarians and classical liberals": since the word can mean quite a few things, who are the classical liberals who are not libertarians whom this refers to? Or is "and classical liberals" a redundancy here? - Jmabel | Talk 06:56, 25 July 2006 (UTC)

have to say them both, because libertarian == leftist in Brazil, and liberal == leftist in America. Yes, horribly confusing. RussNelson 07:27, 1 October 2006 (UTC)

Claim about libertarians[edit]

The recently added paragraph in the Criticism section claiming that libertarians say there is no obligation (except by means of contract) on anyone to protect someone else's negative right, and that positive rights arise only from contract, was originally quite poorly written; I believe I've cleaned it up without altering the intended meaning. But it all strikes me as a dubious, uncited, and possibly scurrilous claim about libertarianism. I have never heard any but the most extreme libertarians claim, for example, that the poor are not entitled to police protection because they cannot pay for it, and I have never heard even the most extreme libertarian argue that a parent has no inherent obligation either to feed, clothe, or house a newborn infant or (if they will not or cannot do these things) to give up custody of that child.

In any event, this is not cited. Is there a citable basis for this? -- Jmabel | Talk 01:29, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

That's basic libertarianism. Everything has to be voluntary. People don't have a right to force others to provide them with things. Libertarians believe that there are no positive rights. You're bringing in the subject of children, but that's a different story. Of course there are different standards for adults and children, especially if it is one's own child. Here is a citation about positive rights: "Libertarianism therefore radically limits people's duties. it insists that people only have negative rights and no positive rights, and correspondingly that they have only negative duties to refrain from interfering with other people's actions, but no positive duties of assistance." [2]
Also, "Some writers [e.g., Shue] claim that the negative/positive distinction is ill-formed or fake, on the ground that negative rights require police and courts for their enforcement, and yet those things are positive acts that somebody would be required to do. This is mistaken, however. The question of what the right is a right to do, and who if anybody will enforce it, are separate. If our rights are purely negative, it will also mean that no one has the duty to enforce them, as such, although everyone has the right to use whatever means he can avail himself, with the cooperation of others who also have no duty to do so, to secure his rights. The distinction between negative and positive is quite robust." [3] Beyond the classroom 01:56, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

All I really can say is "wow". Or at least that is all I can say politely. - Jmabel | Talk 06:50, 28 November 2006 (UTC)

That's why libertarianism implies anarchism, that is, a completely non-violent voluntary society. No one has a right to force anyone to do anything. Force can only be legitimately used to stop people from initiating force and fraud against others. And that means you can't force anyone to protect you from those who would initiate force against you. That has to be voluntary as well (therefore conscription is opposed). Any welfare system has to be voluntary as well. That's why taxation is opposed. Beyond the classroom 07:15, 28 November 2006 (UTC)
Now, there is another philosophy sometimes called "libertarianism" that is actually classical liberalism. These do not oppose "initiation of force" as long as it's mostly confined to taxing people in order to protect freedom. But these also oppose the welfare state, that is, against the idea that people have a positive right to be provided with aid by others. Beyond the classroom 07:32, 28 November 2006 (UTC)

It's a long way from a parent's obligation to feed and clothe his or her child to a "welfare state". - Jmabel | Talk 07:22, 30 November 2006 (UTC)

Of course. Children are a different story. I don't know of any libertarians who would apply libertarian law to children, though there may be some. Children get special protections as well as are denied certain liberties. Libertarianism applies to people that have reached the age of reason, whatever that may be. Sure, a libertarian may say I'm obligated to feed my child but that I'm not obligated to feed you. Adult individuals do not have any positive rights. So, you, as an adult have no right to be provided with food. If you want food, you have to grow it yourself, purchase it, or ask someone to give you some. Beyond the classroom 18:52, 30 November 2006 (UTC)
"The poor are not entitled to police protection because they cannot pay for it" No, it's not because they can't pay for it. It's because no one is obligated to protect the poor. But if a police officer has agreed to protect someone under a contract (such as governmental contract), then they are technically obligated to, in the case that someone violates this principle and attacks the poor person. It's not about money. Deepstratagem 17:54, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Article needs cleanup per WP:WEASEL[edit]

The article contains some instances of weasel phrasing that should be eliminated. I see that the previous AfD on this article was principally motivated by this concern. We should also be sure to give good cites for all assertions. -- 10:30, 29 September 2007 (UTC)

Libertarian bullshit[edit]

"Negative rights may be used to justify political rights such as freedom of speech, property, habeas corpus, freedom from violent crime, freedom of worship, a fair trial, freedom from slavery and the right to bear arms."

Am I the first one smart enough to recognize this sentence from the current article obviously contradicts itself? "Freedom from violent crime" inevitably XORs "the right to bear arms"! In the USA every year hundreds of wives are killed when husband ends simpe family quarrel with a gunshot, even though he nominally got the gun "to defend his house from armed invaders".

Of course if nobody has a gun, but the state, there won't be armed invaders in the first place. Like Japan, where even the yakuza only have swords, shootings are very rare, murderers are sentenced to hang, thus crime rate is lowest anywhere and life expectancy is among the highest. (talk) 17:19, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

No, you're not the first one smart enough to try to conflate the personal ownership of weapons with the freedom from violent crime. You'd be the first one to succeed, though. RussNelson (talk) 20:16, 14 January 2008 (UTC)

Except when a tyrranst take over and governments can do any thing they want to any one and the people can do nothing about it gun control is a fascists best friend just look at nazi germany Irishfrisian (talk) 19:10, 10 July 2012 (UTC)

Alice and Bob[edit]

Could the second paragraph be converted to an "Alice and Bob" kind of scenario? It's in the correct format, but it doesn't use Alice and Bob for clarity. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:19, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Original research by Dlawbailey?[edit]

I'm concerned that the recent edits made by Dlawbailey may constitute original "research". ("Research" in quotes because it seems odd to call an original philosophical argument "research"). This does not appear to be a citation of an argument made in a published source, but rather a philosophical argument in its own right, which is not suitable for an encyclopedia. Noted here because the edits are so large I wouldn't know where to put an [original research] tag. Pfhorrest (talk) 23:29, 3 July 2008 (UTC)

Hi, Dlawbailey here. First, I'm summarizing points from many published sources - most published many scores of years before the Internet. I'm just trying to guide the reader to touch on the essential underlying questions - things that have been debated for centuries. My problem with the article was that in legal *ethics* it's impossible to characterize the substance of rights without a discussion of obligation. The debate over positive and negative rights is a debate that's really overlaid on prior questions. What I'm saying here really comes from the canon.
I have to admit that I agree the article has structural problems. I wasn't sure how to fit in a nod to these essential questions because the article leaps to such high-level stuff so quickly, but I'm just trying to help. If there's awkwardness, it really comes from trying to fit it in. All I'd ask is that rather than wiping out the whole thing, people look at what I'm saying first, because I think they will find it's not really even controversial - again, basically from the canon. I wasn't even sure how to cite the thing because I have to go back to such old texts AND, on a practical level, my computer broke. I'm just hoping to bring some of the essential issues into an important article that will almost certainly have to be expanded and disambiguated. I'm going to cut down what I wrote tonight so it's simpler and would ask others to help me fit it in. I'm new to this process.
But I assure you I am not trying to publish original research - just characterize the underlying questions a bit in the way they have been characterized for centuries before the article leaps into the very high-level stuff.
Oh, and to be specific, I think it might be clearer if I just remove the reference to the concept of state for the moment. My "ex voto" observation was only made because I thought it might be the briefest way to relate obligation and these higher questions of state. --Dlawbailey (talk) 02:30, 11 July 2008 (UTC)
My primary concern was with the overall tone and wording of the edits, which seem in the end to be arguing a point rather than just stating facts or citing others' opinions. Mentioning that rights often entail obligations on others is good (Claim rights and liberty rights, which is mostly my work, addresses that subject at length). Mentioning that rights/obligations may sometimes conflict and thus need to be ranked and prioritized is also good, though you seem to segue between the previous point in this one when I don't really see the connection there. Rights entail obligations, and therefore need to be ranked? Seems like two separate, unrelated points, though both good ones.
Mentioning that some people consider only negative rights/obligations to be prima facie (or "natural" in the language of natural rights theories) is good, and ties in nicely to the part about ranking; but who considers them such should be cited, otherwise the article would be POV. Likewise, mentioning that some people hold there to be positive rights/obligations (or a single such obligation) above all negative rights/obligations is worthy of inclusion, but should again be cited as so-and-so's opinion, to keep the article NPOV.
It was actually that last part which brought this whole thing to my attention, for as a philosophical anarchist I would disagree with that opinion, and the article as it stands seems to be endorsing it (POV), rather than reporting that some reputable figure endorses it (NPOV). Pfhorrest (talk) 10:34, 11 July 2008 (UTC)

Misleading Introduction[edit]

1) Traditionally, in the U.S. Negative Rights referred to civil rights and Positive Rights refered to political rights.

In T. H. Marshall’s Class, Citizenship and Social Development, negative rights refers to civil rights: freedom from slavery and servitude, torture and inhuman punishment, and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment; freedom of speech, faith, opinion, and expression; right to life, security, justice, ownership, and assembly.

Originally, positive rights represented political rights: right to vote and nominate for public office; right to form and join political parties. However, after WWII with the Declaration of Human Rights, positive rights began to expand to include: right to education, work, food, clothing, housing, and medical care.

D. D. Raphael's Political Theory and the Rights of Man, also describes negative rights as civil rights and political rights, and positive rights as social and economic rights, in between the individual and the government.

2) Civil Rights and Political Rights refer to a relationship in between the individual and the government

Negative rights and positive rights traditionally referred to the individual and the government. Libertarians in the 1970s began to use negative rights and positive rights to refer to rights in between individuals. However, legal institutions still hold that civil, political, social, and economic rights exist between the individual and the government.

The word “Negative Liberty” represents the rights in between individuals to not interfere with each other.

IMPLICATIONS I suggest that we change the introduction to reflect that negative and positive rights are between the individual and government.

Presently: “To state the difference more formally, if 'A' has a negative right against 'B' then 'B' must refrain from acting in a way that would prevent 'A' from doing 'x'. If 'A' has a positive right against 'B', then 'B' must assist 'A' to do 'x' if 'A' is not able to do 'x' without that assistance.”

Suggested Change: “To state the difference more formally, if individual 'A' has a negative right against government 'B', then government 'B' must refrain from acting in a way that would prevent individual 'A' from doing 'x'. If individual 'A' has a positive right against government 'B', then government 'B' must provide individual 'A' with the means to access the positive right.

I disagree, because that would then restrict the scope of this article to the subject of legal rights (and even then, only a subset of legal rights), whereas the concepts of positive and negative rights are just as applicable in philosophical discussions of natural or moral rights. While your suggested change is still an accurate statement regarding positive and negative rights, is is a much narrower statement than the one that stands now. The existing statement entails yours, but not vice versa.
However, on a tangential note, I do think the existing statement could use some revision, as your use of the (IMO ambiguous) phrase "access the positive right" makes me realize. The overall notion that this passage is trying to convey is that "A has a negative right against B" entails "B is prohibited from performing certain actions upon A", and that "A has a positive right against B" entails "B is obliged to perform certain actions upon A". The acts of which B is prohibited or obliged may or may not have to do with some action 'x' performed by A. For example, if A has a negative right against B to be free from assault, then B is simply prohibited from assaulting A, rather than B being prohibited from "preventing A from being un-assaulted" or some such contortion of words to substitute "be un-assaulted" for 'x'. Likewise, if A has a positive right against B to food and shelter, then B is simply obliged to give food and shelter to A, rather than B being obliged to "assist A in having food and shelter" (again contorting words to substitute "have food and shelter" for 'x'). I think I'll go ahead and make this modification since it seems likely to be uncontroversial.
Even more tangentially - and I'm very sorry for derailing your topic here - it occurs to me that this introduction seems to speak only of claim rights and not at all of liberty rights. I'm uncertain if, for the purposes of this article, "rights" are taken to mean "claims", with "liberties" counting as something else besides rights entirely. We have an article about Claim rights and liberty rights, which was consolidated and fleshed out from two stub articles mostly by me, but I'm unsure how to rephrase the introduction (if desirable) to encompass both types, without just reproducing the contents of the aforementioned article. Suggestions welcome. Pfhorrest (talk) 23:34, 30 August 2008 (UTC)

I also suggest that we remove "violent crime," and use the phrase “torture and inhuman treatment” which is the same wording used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, Governments do not commit violent crimes against their citizens. Governments execute individuals, or commit genocide, but not violent crime. Individuals commit “violent crimes,” against other individuals. People, not goverments, are charged with War Crimes.


Daniel Oneofshibumi (talk) 01:02, 30 August 2008 (UTC)

RESOURCES Raphael, D. D., ed. Political Theory and the Rights of Man. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967.

Marshall, T. H. Class, Citizenship and Social Development. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1964.

Property - negative or positive?[edit]

On Aug 8th user listed "property" under positive rights, which I promptly reverted. I did not notice until just now that he/she did that edit again the next day. I'm going to revert it again, but since there seems to be some disagreement here, I'm bringing this to the talk page.

The "right to private property" typically means the negative claim right prohibiting certain actions upon certain things to which the right-holder bears the relationship of 'owner'. I imagine that thinks it is better listed under positive rights because of the argument that effectively holding one's property requires government action. However, by that rationale the right to be free from violent crime would also be a positive right, as that requires police action just as much as property protection does; and I think we can all agree that that right is about as negative as negative rights come. may want to argue along those lines that the positive-negative rights distinction is entirely invalid, as the enforcement of any negative right requires positive action; but that argument is already covered in the Criticism section. Barring that, if we are to make the positive-negative distinction at all, it seems pretty clear that private property is a negative right. -Pfhorrest (talk) 03:51, 19 September 2008 (UTC)

Merger with positive and negative liberties articles?[edit]

I was unaware until a moment ago that aside from this article, there are also separate articles on Positive liberties and Negative liberties, which cover largely the same topic as far as I can tell. I would like to propose that those two articles be merged into this one. I am adding merger templates to all three pages, directing discussion to this talk page. -Pfhorrest (talk) 04:53, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

Oppose I think negative and positive liberties could be merged into one article. Also note there is a Claim_rights_and_liberty_rights article.
But it looks to me like the liberty and rights articles have different sets of references and different summaries. Even Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article on Positive and Negative Liberty and then in a separate article differentiates Negative and Positive Rights. Who are we amateurs to try to merge rights and liberties? Carol Moore 23:44, 22 September 2008 (UTC)Carolmooredc
Yes, I created Claim rights and liberty rights from the stubby little preexisting articles on the two separate subjects. Are you suggesting that those are likewise similar concepts to positive and negative rights, or just pointing out an example of another article about two dichotomous concepts? If the latter, I completely agree that if positive and negative liberties are not merged in here, it would be a good idea to merge them together with each other at least. Also, your point about the SEP is a good one, though I'm still unclear on precisely what the difference between positive/negatives rights and liberties; it seems as though the former are just guarantees of the latter; your positive rights ensure you have positive liberty, and likewise with negative rights and negative liberty. I think it would be wise, if we do not merge all three together, to clearly distinguish the two articles from each other in their respective introductions. -Pfhorrest (talk) 00:33, 23 September 2008 (UTC)
Sorry if not clear. Oppose merger of libe rties and rights articles together. But support merging negative and positive liberties into one article, just like there is this Negative and positive rights and [[Claim_rights_and_liberty_rights] article. As for the difference between liberties and rights, it's not our job to figure it out, only to quote those who have opinions. But I'd say even if you found a good opinion that they are the same thing, enough people use them separately they should stay separated but in each of their leads refer to the other two. Carol Moore 03:12, 24 September 2008 (UTC)Carolmooredc
Opposse Positive rights and positive liberties are different things, at least according to Berlin. Positive liberty has to do with self-mastery and control, while positive rights have to deal with actual "rights" like the right to healthcare or the right to education. The distinction between negative liberty and negative rights is less clear, but I still don't think it would be appropriate to merge these articles. Benjaminx (talk) 21:48, 27 September 2008 (UTC)
Opposse Se above. Liberties and rights are different animals altogether. I'll remove the merger suggestion since nobody is for this. --OpenFuture (talk) 10:29, 1 October 2008 (UTC)

Alrighty then. I've added different merger templates between Positive liberties and Negative liberties instead as per Carol's suggestion above. -Pfhorrest (talk) 20:32, 1 October 2008 (UTC)

style vs. content[edit]

Leaving aside what the article says, has anyone noticed how badly written it is? Rick Norwood (talk) 20:38, 11 May 2009 (UTC)

I found it difficult to follow. I can see the example at the beginning being hard to understand if you are not a lawyer. It doesn't seem to be very well organized either. Sirwigwam (talk) 03:42, 3 November 2013 (UTC)


Suggestion clear example WHEN POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE RIGHTS CONFLICT 2 shipwreck-survivors wash ashore a tiny desolate island. The libertarian one believes in 'absolute rights' and is the first one to claim the island, including the abundance of food growing on it. The libertarian finds he has no obligation to share or sell his food, he knows this decision will kill the other one. According to libertarian ideology he may even turn the other one into a slave; enforce 'a price' for staying on his island (just as a hotelmanager may demand a price for staying in the bridal suite). The other one believes he has the right to steal food out of self defence. Positive and negative rights conflict in cases of (extreme) scarcity (sadly, I do not have any quotations. Maybe I should write a book sometimes... ;-)) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:06, 24 May 2009 (UTC)


This is article is a fine example of intentional obfuscation which is aimed at preventing the distinctions between positive and negative rights from being clearly understood. I do not understand what the Libertarians and the natural right folks are so scared of, why can't we just make it clear and let people decide for themselves?

Edunoramus (talk) 01:22, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

What exactly do you think is faulty about this article, that it obfuscates the distinction between positive and negative rights? The primary purpose of this article is to articulate that distinction, so if you think it's failing to do so, please elaborate on why you think so. --Pfhorrest (talk) 05:22, 11 October 2010 (UTC)
While I do object to an overt label of positive rights as necessarily communitarian, specifically on the grounds that it is a rhetorical move toward negation, nonetheless, I do think that the following linked definition makes things much more open and clear. Also, it highlights the challenges of how positive and negative rights often serve to negate and infringe upon each other in "the real world": Positive rights definition within the Communitarianism definition Edunoramus (talk) 15:06, 11 October 2010 (UTC)
That overview on the Communitarianism page looks pretty good to me. If you want to incorporate some derivative of that into this article I have no objection. (Or if I do object to anything in particular I can always say so here after the fact). --Pfhorrest (talk) 19:27, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Theres need to be more critics of positive rights added[edit]

Thoughts on when positive rights such as health care and education lack sufficient volunteerism and either coercion of labor or having to end the rights occur. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Dunnbrian9 (talkcontribs) 09:12, 27 May 2011 (UTC)

I agree, the rambling attack on negative rights should be balanced or removed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:09, 29 March 2012 (UTC)


Has there ever been a scholarly attempt to define the precise difference between a "positive right" and an entitlement? --Damian Yerrick (talk | stalk) 14:19, 11 September 2011 (UTC)

I doubt you will find such a thing, as entitlements are more closely related to claim rights, whether they are positive or negative. (To have a legitimate claim to something is to be entitled to it). --Pfhorrest (talk) 01:55, 12 September 2011 (UTC)
No idea but wikt:entitlement is politically defined as "A legal obligation on a government to make payments to a person, business, or unit of government that meets the criteria set in law, such as social security in the US". Do human rights carry a legal obligation by themselves? --JamesPoulson (talk) 10:55, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Freedom of Speech and Religion: Positive Rights, not Negative Rights[edit]

The second sentence of the intro says that positive rights permit or oblige action. The first sentence of the third paragraph in the intro says freedom of may be a negative right. Freedom of speech, according to the second sentence in the intro, is a positive right. Freedom of speech permits speech. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:51, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

The second sentence of the intro says that positive rights permit or oblige action. The first sentence of the third paragraph in the intro says freedom of religion may be a negative right. Freedom of religion, according to the second sentence in the intro, is a positive right. Freedom of Religion permits Religion. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:54, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

Both this and the freedom of speech issue you mention above are due to the complicating factors of active/passive and first/second-order rights in addition to the positive/negative distinction. The rights to freedom of speech and religion are second-order passive rights, or "immunities", and they are negative forms thereof: they say not merely that you are permitted to speak and practice your religion freely, but that you may not be prohibited from doing so: it is forbidden for anyone to make it forbidden for you to speak or practice your religion freely. Such negative immunities protect your positive first-order active rights (liberties), i.e. your freedom to speech and religion themselves, but are not identical to them.
This may need better explanation in the article, but unfortunately I haven't the time to do it. I think what we have now (or had, before someone apparently deleted it to day... which I've just reverted) explains it accurately, but could probably be put more clearly to avoid random readers like this from being thus confused. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:23, 28 February 2013 (UTC)
I deleted that stuff precisely because it causes this sort of confusion. This whole article is about claim rights. Cluttering the up the lede with weird ideas about "negative (liberty) rights" that "permit" "inaction" makes no sense, not to mention being extremely hypothetical... what negative liberty rights are even commonly discussed? And "positive rights" that "permit" "action" makes random readers think freedom of speech refers to a positive claim right, when in normal contexts it does not. I highly recommend reapplying my edit. Scott Illini (talk) 07:10, 5 March 2013 (UTC)

Philosophers associated with the concept[edit]

Are there any particular philosophers associated with originating or promoting the classification? I see Frederic Bastiat, Jan Narveson, and Robert Nozick all name-checked from about halfway down the second section, and Kant alluded to in the first, but none of the above is connected explicitly to the classification. And am I right in saying that Karl Popper contributed to the ideas? — Sasuke Sarutobi (talk) 23:13, 16 December 2013 (UTC)

Stipulations For Defining Negative Versus Positive Rights[edit]

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.

The relationship provided above and currently within the topic of Negative and Positive rights is entirely INCORRECT !

It is absolutely necessary to define negative and positive rights with respect to citizens and their governments , else the references lack any credence - [1] .

I will use the term rights ( sic ) , begrudgingly , to temporarily avoid the mistrust of pedantic pundits .

By definition , negative rights ( sic ) imply inaction by government ; libertarianism is to be defined as policies adherent to negative rights .

In contrast , positive rights ( sic ) imply action by government ; authoritarianism is to be defined as policies adherent with positive rights .

Now , if legislation is passed whereby a government performs an action to establish a negative liberty , a positive right is established via authoritarianism .

Likewise, if legislation is passed whereby a government performs an action to establish a positive liberty , a positive right is established via authoritarianism .

In the confounding example cited above and currently included within the negative and positive rights article , Adrian has a positive right x and a negative liberty x if Clay is prohibited by authoritarian action of government from acting upon Adrian in some way regarding x . In contrast , Adrian has a positive right x and a positive liberty x against Clay if and only if Clay is obliged through authoritarian action of government to act upon Adrian in some way regarding x .

The inaccuracies in the confounding example cited above are a travesty establishing precondition for ignorance and a profound degeneracy of public intellect !

[2] [3]

GeMiJa (talk) 02:37, 12 June 2014 (UTC)GeMiJa