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From Wikipedia

A claim right is a right which entails responsibilities, duties, or obligations on other parties regarding the right-holder. In contrast, a liberty right is a right which does not entail obligations on other parties, but rather only freedom or permission for the right-holder.


Liberty rights and claim rights are the inverse of one another: a person has a liberty right permitting him to do something only if there is no other person who has a claim right forbidding him from doing so; and likewise, if a person has a claim right against someone else, that other person's liberty is thus limited. This is because the deontic concepts of obligation and permission are De Morgan dual; a person is permitted to do all and only the things he is not obliged to refrain from, and obliged to do all and only the things he is not permitted to refrain from.

The Wikipedia article also goes on to say

A person's liberty right to x consists in his freedom to do or have x, while a person's claim right to x consists in an obligation on others to allow or enable him to do or have x. For example, to assert a liberty right to free speech is to assert that you have permission to speak freely; that is, that you are not doing anything wrong by speaking freely. But that liberty right does not in itself entail that others are obligated to help you communicate the things you wish to say, or even that they would be wrong in preventing you from speaking freely. To say these things would be to assert a claim right to free speech; to assert that others are obliged to refrain (i.e. prohibited) from preventing you from speaking freely (that is, that it would be wrong for them to do so) or even perhaps obliged to aid your efforts at communication (that is, it would be wrong for them to refuse such aid). Conversely, such claim rights do not entail liberty rights; e.g. laws prohibiting vigilante justice (establishing a legal claim right to be free thereof) do not thereby condone or permit all the acts which such violent enforcement might otherwise have prevented.

I think claim rights is an anti-concept. From the Lexicon:

An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate . . . .


Observe the technique involved . . . . It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick.

What is a liberty right? According to Wikipedia, it is

a liberty right is a right which does not entail obligations on other parties, but rather only freedom or permission for the right-holder

The question I would ask is, freedom or permission from whom? Under the traditional meaning of rights, the answer is freedom and permission from other people. If person B stops A from speaking, then B is violating A's rights. The proper role of government is then strictly the defense of rights. It is not necessary to create the additional concept of liberty and claim rights.

The claim rights concept brings into the picture concepts such as responsibility, duty, and obligation. It says that rights, as a concept, is incomplete and two new concepts must be used: liberty rights and claim rights. And that the role of government is to enforce claim rights in order to protect liberty rights. In other words, the role of government is to enforce responsibility, duty, and obligation on others. Yet concepts such as responsibility, duty, and obligation are requirements on the other party to do something, not to not do something. For example, the definition of duty is

something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation.

I think the argument of the Wikipedia's article equivocates the differences between doing and non-doing. Under the traditional definition of rights, for A's rights to be protected, the government's role is to prevent B from DOING something. If B isn't DOING something, then there is no violation of rights. Under the new dual concepts model, it is the government's role to enforce claim rights aka (responsibility, duty, obligations). It's not hard at this point to shift the argument from the government preventing B from doing something to the government requiring B to do something given that the definition of responsibility/duty/obligations is to DO something, not to NOT DO something. For example, B has an obligation to provide sustenance to A to protect A's right to life.

What's your take on this?

asked Dec 15 '13 at 20:52

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Dec 16 '13 at 22:33

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

According to the Wikipedia article linked in the question ("Claim rights and liberty rights"), the distinction arose in the thinking of Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, an American professor of law (1879-1918). Another Wikipedia article on him provides further explanation of his terminology and motivation:

Hohfeld noticed that even respected jurists conflate various meanings of the term right, sometimes switching senses of the word several times in a single sentence. He wrote that such imprecision of language indicated a concomitant imprecision of thought, and thus also of the resulting legal conclusions. In order to both facilitate reasoning and clarify rulings, he attempted to disambiguate the term rights by breaking it into eight distinct concepts. To eliminate ambiguity, he defined these terms relative to one another, grouping them into four pairs of Jural Opposites and four pairs of Jural Correlatives. [For clarity, I am omitting the 8 terms, which I find confusing.]

This use of the words right and privilege correspond respectively to the concepts of claim rights and liberty rights.

In other words, Hohfeld seems to be referring to the distinction between the freedom to do something (or not to do it), and an obligation of some kind to do something (or not to do it). A "liberty right" is a freedom, while a "claim right" is an obligation (affirmative or negative) imposed on a person by another person or society. On this view, every valid freedom is accompanied by an obligation on others not to interfere with that freedom, and every alleged obligation on a person (to act or to refrain from a certain action) constitutes a limitation on his freedom of action.

Objectivism holds that man, by his nature, possesses broad freedom of action in a social context, but not the "freedom" to initiate physical force against others. Man also possesses the right of self-defense against those who would infringe his proper freedoms. Objectivism does not directly recognize or endorse the idea of "claim rights," especially if Hohfeld classifies freedom from initiation of physical force by others as a "claim right." In Objectivism, that freedom (and right of self-defense) is just a corollary of the individual rights (freedom rights) which man possesses, by his nature. Today, of course," claim rights" might be viewed as including "entitlements," which Objectivism rejects and opposes.

Assuming that my understanding of Hohfeld's terminology is correct, I would not classify "claim right" as an anti-concept. The way it is described in Wikipedia (and perhaps in Hohfeld's own works) is certainly confusing and poorly integrated, but I don't see it as incapable of being essentialized more precisely and integrated more fully, with a little further effort, as I have attempted to do in reducing the issue to freedoms versus obligations. Still, the idea of "claim rights" can all too easily have the effect of confounding the essential nature of individual rights as freedoms, not obligations, thereby reinforcing the contemporary tendency to regard altruistic "obligations" as "rights" of the beneficiaries.

answered Dec 16 '13 at 21:46

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Thank you for the response. "while a "claim right" is an obligation (affirmative or negative) imposed on a person by another person or society."

You may find this Wikipedia article on positive & negative rights interesting.

(Dec 17 '13 at 11:59) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

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Asked: Dec 15 '13 at 20:52

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Last updated: Dec 17 '13 at 11:59