Burlamaqui and 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)

Burlamaqui makes careful distinctions between two different types of rights, perfect and imperfect. A perfect right is one “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” (Williams 89). For Burlamaqui, these rights are essentially inalienable, and they can be exercised even if that means that the exercise requires force. An example of a perfect right is the children’s right to their father. In particular, Burlamaqui states that “a father cannot give up his rights to his children, nor leave them entirely to their own fate” (Williams 90).

Burlamaqui argues that perfect rights allow people to use reasonable force against those who threaten “our lives, our property or our freedom” (Williams 89). Burlamaqui grants people the right to use force to protect their lives, property, and freedom, but does not really specify the outline of these protections. Unlike perfect rights, imperfect rights are those that can be “legitimately given up” (Williams 90). An example is a creditor releasing a debtor of his debts, either completely or partially. Burlamaqui’s argument implies that people do not have right to defend their imperfect rights with force, meaning that men do not have the right to exercise their imperfect rights by taking the law into their own hands.

I do not find his careful distinctions between perfect and imperfect rights persuasive because they lack precision. Burlamaqui states that we have the perfect right to defend “our lives, our property, and our freedom” (Williams 89). The statement implies that an individual has the right to use force to defend his property, but it does not take into consideration the other person’s equal right to defend his own life in return. Burlamaqui writes off the other people’s rights because he considers them transgressors who are outside the social order. Using a broad definition of property, he seems to be arguing that it is justifiable for one person to take another person’s life if he steals from him. I disagree. I see life a much more valuable commodity than a television or a purse or even cash.

These distinctions are still applicable to the ethical domain we live in today. Our policies toward guns are representative of tensions between people who feel it is their perfect right to own an unlimited amount of weapons, and those who do not. Some people believe that the Second Amendment applies to all guns, and any restriction on gun ownership is an infringement on their rights to protect themselves.

These people seem to be in line with Burlamaqui’s school of thought. They view property, no matter the quantity or quality, as a perfect right; a right that gives them the freedom to kill someone if someone else tries to take it. Recently, there was a story in the news about a kid who put on a mask, pretended to be a burglar, and got shot and killed by his own father. Even if the kid was a real burglar, his father should not have the right to shot him for taking his property. I value life much more than that.  A individual has more of a right to live then someone else does to protect his property. In my view, Burlamaqui’s kind of thinking is a justification of barbarism and totalitarianism.

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