Burlamaqui’s Relationship Between Rights and Obligations

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

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

Why does Burlamaqui posit a necessary reciprocal relationship between rights and obligations? Begin by explaining how, in his view, these two moral faculties are related. Then move to the question of their necessary connection.

Burlamaqui states that a “right and obligation are two correlative terms… one of these ideas necessarily imply the other, and you cannot conceive of a right without conceiving of a corresponding obligation” (Williams 88). For him, a right is an individual’s ability to exercise his freedom within reasonable bounds: “the ability man has to use his natural freedom and his natural strength in a certain way, either with respect to himself or others, in as much as the exercise of his strength and freedom is approved by reason” (Williams 86). For him, an obligation is a restriction that constrains one’s natural freedom so that another person can express their rights. Thus, for Burlamaqui, rights and obligations are necessarily connected because an obligation is “a restriction on natural freedom brought about by reason” (Williams 88). The relationship between a father and his children is an example of this necessary connection between a right and an obligation. A father has the right to raise his children and the children have the obligation to submit to their father’s guidance so that the father could fully exercise his rights to parenthood. In other words, Burlamaqui argues that the word right has no meaning without its necessary connection to the notion of obligation.

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

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