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Arts & Letters Daily


4b. Rights - Community Volunteer

A person with ‘authority’ has the right to issue …


Duty. A community volunteer, Jim, at Semple high school looked at the duty roster for volunteers in the Physical Education Department. He recognized some of the mundane duties from his days in high school … clean up the equipment, store the equipment just to mention a few. Then he spotted a new ‘duty’ on the roster … assist the basketball coach in home games. He said to himself, ‘That’s not a duty … I’d love to do that! Basketball is my favourite game.

Rights. Jim’s first reaction to the position of assisting the coach in home games was, ‘On what authority can I tell a player to do anything?’ The students will regard only the coach as someone who is knowledgeable about basketball strategies. No student will regard me as someone who has the right to tell them anything. So, how can I be an assistant coach?


  • How would you counsel Jim on the issue of ‘authority?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘authority’

  • Crooked thinking

The word ‘authority’ is used only in the moral sense.

  • Straight thinking

In the formal institutional sense, it is used to refer to Parliament’s right to make laws, the judge’s right to pronounce a sentence, or a general’s right to command his army. In an informal sense, the word is used in non-moral statements like “He is a man of authority on many things”. The word “authority”, in this case, is used to refer to a person who is regarded as being rather knowledgeable. Some people have the authority to confer a right to do something to others. For example, a principal can authorize a secretary to open his mail or confer upon the secretary the right to open the mail.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click the following:

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