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Which Rights Should Be Universal?$
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William Talbott

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195173475

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195173473.001.0001

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Which Rights Should Be Universal?

William Talbott (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

In this chapter, Talbott explains the development of autonomy rights as a response to the failure of paternalistic defenses of autocracy (e.g., Plato’s Republic and the Marxist dictatorships of the 20th century). Talbott discusses two alternative ways of explaining the importance of autonomy rights, one consequentialist and one nonconsequentialist. Talbott focuses on the consequentialist account. Talbott proposes a non-metaphysical conception of autonomy as involving good judgment (making generally reliable judgments about one's own good) and self-determination (making choices on the basis of one's judgments). Talbott claims that one of the most important discoveries in the development of human rights is the discovery that the claim of first person authority is true—that is, the discovery, first announced by J.S. Mill, that, given the necessary education and training, all normal human beings are capable of becoming generally reliable judges of what is good for them. Talbott defines two categories of autonomy rights—development-of-judgment rights and exercise-of-judgment rights— that are necessary for the judgments of normal adults to be generally reliable. He argues that for a government to reliably promote the well-being of its citizens, the government must obtain and be appropriately responsive to reliable feedback from its citizens about the effects of its policies. This is the reliable feedback problem and the appropriate responsiveness problem. Talbott argues that guarantees of autonomy rights are essential parts of any solution to the reliable feedback problem. The chapter concludes with a list of eight autonomy rights.

Keywords:   autocracy, autonomy, consequentialist, good judgment, T.D. Lysenko, J.S. Mill, nonconsequentialist, reliable feedback, self-determination, Henry Shue

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