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Arts & Letters Daily


9b. Right - Ms. Young - PE teacher

To have a right to an object of interest


Duty. Ms. Wong, a middle years teacher for the past 12 years, had been a coveted physical education teacher till three years ago when she was immobilized in a car accident. Now she was teaching English, another subject she loved. When she applied for the position of vice principal in her school, her application was refused on the grounds that she would not be able to fulfil all the duties of a vice principal because her mobility was restricted because she is in a wheel chair.

Senior management felt an apparent conflict of duties. On the one hand, they wanted to  appoint a vice principal who could attend to the varied and complex tasks and situations that arise in a high school. They thought this required a highly mobile person who could move about freely in crowded hallways, attend huge sports complexes for away games, drive at a moment’s notice, just to mention a few challenges. On the other hand, Ms. Wong had demonstrated creative mobility, outstanding communication skills with staff and students and exceptional organizational skills. At the same time, management knew they had to make a decision.

Rights. Ms. Wong objected to the decision on the grounds that her rights had been violated. There were creative ways of accommodating her physical handicap. For example, she could introduce a Student Civil Service Program which would not only support her in executing her duties but would educate students in providing volunteer community service. Management commended her for her creative solution but rejected her application. They maintained that even though she had a right to make an application, they were not obligated to receive it. Ms. Wong challenged the decision on the grounds that she had a right to demonstrate that she could fulfill the duties of a vice principal. Administration had no right to deny her the appointment on the grounds they cited.


  • Was management obligated to accept Ms. Wong’s application? Explain.
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of ‘to have a right’

  • Crooked thinking

To have a right to an object of interest means that a person must pursue that object of interest.

  • Straight thinking

To have a right to an object of interest means that it is not wrong for a person to pursue that object of interest. Nor would it be wrong for the person not to pursue the object of interest. In fact, it would be wrong for someone else to prevent the person from pursuing his object of interest if he had a right to do so. For example, if John has the right to read detective stories then it is not wrong for him to read them. John would be free to read detective stories or leave them. However, it would be wrong for someone to prevent John from reading detective stories. Everyone else would have a duty not to prevent John from reading this kind of literature. If, however, reading detective stories was not an object of interest for John, then it would not be a right for John. However, it might. be subsumed under a more general right–the right to read any book whatever.

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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