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Arts & Letters Daily


3b. Rights - Drama Club


Rights must be distinguished from duties


Duty. The Drama Club staff coach, Ms. Smith, humbly accepted the cheers from the audience and the bouquets of flowers at the conclusion of the final night of the dramatic performance of Of Mice and Men. The announcement of this performance, the countless hours of rehearsals and the three-night performance schedule had exhausted her. There had been considerable outcry from a small vocal group of parents who objected to the use of coarse language in the script. Never-the-less, on this final night, the Superintendent praised Ms. Smith and the students for this highly professional rendition of Steinbach’s novel. He called Ms. Smith’s leadership an act of supererogation … she had fulfilled her duty.

Rights. Many thoughts raced through Ms. Smith’s mind. But, they all came down to the issues she had faced as she defended putting on this production. Did she have a right to put on a production of this controversial novel which was on the curriculum? Was it her duty to defend this right? It may have been her right but was this the time and place to defend it? She hoped she had done the right thing.


  • How would you defend the decision Ms. Smith made about the questions she faced?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘rights and duties’

  • Crooked thinking

A human right establishes that a person has a duty to exercise this right.

  • Straight thinking

Rights must be distinguished from duties. People are more enthusiastic about rights than they are about duties. In fact, ordinarily there seems to be a contrast between right and duties. Duties are regarded as being burdensome or onerous. Rights are sought and defended. This distinction is reflected in the fact that a person is sometimes deprived of his rights (for example, through the use of the War Measures Act in Canada) but relieved of his duties, when he is no longer required to do his duties. Finally, a person may have a right as well as a duty to do a certain act. For example, a journalist has the human right of freedom of speech, and as a social critic for a newspaper syndicate, he may also have a duty to exercise his freedom of speech. The human right does not establish that he has a duty to exercise this right. However, if he has a duty to exercise freedom of speech, then he also has a right to exercise it.

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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