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violating or infringing anybody's rights.27 Thomas Nagel carries out an extensive discussion of the relationship between these constraints, rights, and inviolability in Part III of his article "Personal Rights and Public Space." He argues that, in order fully to understand the role of rights as a part of a non-consequentialist morality, we need to understand "the status conferred on all human beings by the design of a morality which includes agent-relative constraints of this kind. The status is that of a certain kind of inviolability, which we identify with the possession of rights."28 Rights belong properly to a non-consequentialist, moderate morality precisely because they

prohibit us from doing certain things to anyone but do not require that we count it equally a reason for action that it will prevent those same sorts of things being done to someone else, but not by oneself . . . Rights tell us in the first instance what not to do to other people, rather than what to prevent from happening to them. 29

This, to Nagel, leads to a certain "paradoxical" feature of constraints and rights, insofar as a right or a constraint "may sometimes forbid us to do something that would minimize its violation -- as when we are forbidden to kill one innocent person even to prevent two other innocents from being killed."30 But this paradoxical feature just arises from the fact that, not only are the goods promoted by a set of moral rules important, but it is also important that a certain status be conferred or recognized by such a system:

If . . . it is permissible to kill the one to save the two [from being killed unjustly], that implies a profound difference in the status of everyone . . . In the world with no rights and fewer killings, no one would be inviolable in a way in which, in the world with more rights and more killings, everyone would be -- including the victims. 31


what actually happens to us is not the only thing we care about: What may be done to us is also important, quite apart from whether or not it is done to us . . . we are trying to explain the moral significance of agent-relative rights by say-


Quinn, 157-158.


Nagel, 89.


Nagel, 88.


Nagel, 90.




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