Burlamaqui’s Perfect and Imperfect Rights

English: Engraved portrait of Jean-Jacques Bur...

English: Engraved portrait of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748), a Swiss jurist and philosopher. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Give an example of the difference between what Burlamaqui calls perfect rights and imperfect rights. He posits an important difference but does not provide a specific example.

For Burlamaqui, “perfect rights are those whose implementation can be required to the letter, if necessary going as far as to use force to ensure that they are implemented, or to ensure that they continue to be observed, against those who might want to resist us, or cause us unease” (89). Perfect rights are those rights which are essentially inalienable, ones that we can protect to the death. For Burlamaqui, these rights allow people to use reasonable force against those who threaten “our lives, our property or our freedom” (89). In other words, Burlamaqui seems to be saying that people have the perfect right to protect themselves and their property from any harm. I am not sure, however, what that means exactly. Does that mean that I can shoot and kill a man who grabs my purse on the street? What exactly is his definition of reasonable force? Unfortunately, we are still struggling with these questions today in America. What particularly worries me about his definition is his use of the word “unease” (89). Unease seems to be such a minor discomfort, a discomfort that I’m not sure should give me the right to infringe on someone else’s perfect rights.

An imperfect right is on that can be “legitimately given up” (Burlamaqui 90). His example of this right is a creditor releasing a debtor of his debts, either completely or partially. Burlamaqui states that “a father cannot give up his rights to his children, nor leave them entirely to their own fate” (90). Therefore, the children’s right to their father is an example of a perfect right.

Williams, David. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

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