It seems like the concept im describing is called Utilitarianism

it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong

Update Clarification

Rights(examples): Vote (whole concept of democracy), law debate(if a drug addict wants to sue someone),

Why are these right not earned but just god/state given?


Why does someone who doesn't contribute as much to society as the average person has the same rights as someone how contributes a lot more?

I know that there are so called human rights so that every human has a life worth living. And I know that there is punishment for people who don't act accordingly to the rules of society (murder, theft etc.).

But how come that people who don't contribute (welfare , drug addicts, outlaws, etc.) still get the same treatment as a hardworking citizen? Where and why do we draw the line?


  • Hard past --> drug addict --> doesn't harm someone directly / still harms society --> no big deal
  • Hard past --> theft --> steals from somewhere --> incarceration

We as a society accept that not everyone is contributing or even hurting the society. On one hand they don't hurt anyone directly on the other how many people could have a better live and be happier without them or if they would act very moral and good?

Note: I'm not saying that the scum of the world should be kicked out of society i just ask why it is the way it is.

  • IMO, it is too broad as it stands. When you use the word "right", whose philosophical idea of rights are you talking about? See this article to start with. From your description, I get the impression that you're using the communist definition of rights, where society's needs are more important than the individual's.
    – prash
    Mar 24, 2015 at 15:56
  • ok i will try to specify the rights i mean ;-)
    – yamm
    Mar 24, 2015 at 15:58
  • 2
    I see that you've chosen all your examples from the lower-end of society; why not include for example bankers who deliberately create obfuscated financial products? Or regulatory companies that have been co-opted? Or indeed the nuclear weapons industry whose immense costs over fifty years for no other end reason other to stockpile weapons and then decommission them; surely all these have had immense indirect costs on society - though not quite the same nature as the examples you've chosen. Mar 26, 2015 at 10:37
  • Also the notion of 'hard-working' has to be thought through; generally it's a signifier for people who are morally upright; but how many hardworking people at the pharmaceutical company who created the thalidomide disaster (which maimed 20,000 and killed 80,000 babies) equals what number of lazy layabout druggies or indeed benefit cheats? Mar 26, 2015 at 10:48

3 Answers 3


Rawls, A theory of justice, provides a Kantian inspired piece of reasoning for such an axiom.

This is his 'veil of ignorance'. Say before you were born, a god asked you what would you wish as the law of the world that you were to be into, given that you do not know to whom you will be born, and nor your social position. Rawls argues under such a presupposition, one should argue that the law should treat everyone equally.

  • i like the principle of this concept, but what about losing rights?
    – yamm
    Mar 26, 2015 at 8:58
  • Your headline question is about 'why equal rights' - not losing them; you'll have to read Rawls to see if he covers this. Mar 26, 2015 at 10:41
  • ohh i see. the concept i was describing is called Utilitariansm
    – yamm
    Mar 26, 2015 at 12:32

The basic problem is that earning is done by meeting responsibilities within the bounds of rights. The basic problem is this: If there is no bedrock set of rights (or responsibilities to meet) one cannot define 'earning' properly, and one has no place to start earning rights (or accounting responsibilities as met).

Since rights and responsibilities are dual -- a responsibility is the lack of a right to refuse to do something -- it is easiest to focus exclusively on one or the other. Classical societies focussed on responsibilities, but since the Enlightenment, it feels better to focus on rights. It really does not make a difference, and I will stick with the language you started from.

In small cultures, rights are granted by those close to you, and earning is clearly if idiosyncratically defined. The bedrock right is the right of those in established positions to give out rights at will, but for those rights to go largely unchallenged once given. This leads to a great lack of uniformity and the hoarding of privilege. The system is more fair between those close together and less fair between those far apart. This is the ideal of the right, as it lets each person feel more fairly treated, even though there is massive underlying disparity that everyone ignores.

When one of these small cultures becomes too large, it becomes intractable to keep track of who has what rights in a way that does not fall back on the erratic and basically unfair smaller subsystems. The bedrock right comes to be the right to challenge all inconsistencies and demand compensation. A mediating system arises which starts off globally unfair by ignoring nuances and stripping away old earned rights.

By thwarting earned rights, such a culture often fails to inculcate a consistent set of values, and rewards clever manipulation or mechanical 'default' processing, instead. (The best-understood example is late Rome, with scheming patricians for whom life is an amoral game, played primarily by posturing on behalf of moralities they do not really hold, and dumb, pacified plebes, happy with their bread and circuses while the Empire provides those by grinding nearby peoples into slavery and poverty. This is the prism that political extremists would like us to see America through.)

The mediation produces the problem that bothers you in the question. Diffuse values create difficulty rewarding desirable behavior. In response, we keep adjusting the system back toward fairness in search of an optimal set of values that are easy to live by. This is the ideal of the left: a system that knows it is always out of balance, but keeps getting better overall by insistent tinkering. The focus on imbalance and correction, along with the continual change, makes everyone feel unfairly treated, even though they are all actually more equal, and generally better off on average, than in the smaller cultures.

I would propose that as we approach zero cost-of-information, we have the privilege of living in a world where these limits on large and small are no longer at odds. We can keep a lot of detail about populations and still address each case individually to some degree.

As it loses meaning this general trend of right vs left is getting highly conflicted and internally inconsistent. Politics is getting meaner and more rhetorically adversarial at the same time the actual agenda for people on the two sides are getting harder and harder to tell apart.

To me, this says we need different dimensions on which to focus our politics. 'Rights' is no longer the proper rhetorical base.


Well as philosophical as this question is, there are practical limitations.

For instance, it is hard to determine the amount of indirect harm one is doing to a society by sitting at home all day doing drugs. Receiving government aid would be a rather easy example to quantify, though.

More importantly, as broad as your current definition of "rights" is, one could argue that taking them away would further impede the individual from contributing to society in the future.

For example, consider a drug addict without a violent history. Taking away their right to drive, government aid, cross state lines, have kids, marry, etc... would really only further their condition and result in a more unproductive member of society.

  • first of all, im not concerned about the method how you would determin if someone deserves justice or how much. i only want to understand the concept of it. i like your input about the future possibilities after 'losing' rights. but why should someone who broke the rules have a chance to change himself? why wasnt he moral and just in the first place?
    – yamm
    Mar 26, 2015 at 12:27
  • Well the reason you are taking away their rights in the first place is because they were not being productive, and no one should have to cater to an unproductive member of society, but taking away their rights doesn't solve this. It worsens the condition. So while taking away their rights may ease the burden of society at first, the crime and delinquent behavior that would ensue would end up having the opposite effect on society as a whole.
    – AlexMayle
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:28
  • That seems reasonable, but not doing anything inst a good solution neither 😃. Sometimes i think we probably just have the best system there is but then i remember that probably every society in history of men kind though they had a pretty good system.
    – yamm
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:01

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