Rights

Sometimes people use rights-talk (I have a right to X) to give themselves an excuse to not feel compassion. A lot of people are suffering because of poverty. (“You are not entitled to my money. It’s my money, I have a right to it.”) A decent number of men are suffering due to sexual frustration. (“You are not entitled to sexual attention. I have a right to my body.”)

In both cases they are right. It’s beneficial to the wellbeing of everyone if we have robust norms regarding property rights and bodily-autonomy rights. But that doesn’t excuse us from the task of acknowledging and sympathizing with the struggling and suffering of others. Thinking you do not have a obligation to do anything about the pain of others is not an excuse to ignore that pain. You are not always obligated to do things to mitigate pain, but you are almost always obligated to acknowledge and sympathize with the experiences of others.

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