By Linda Fisher Thornton
While some people think of rights, responsibilities and freedom separately, in a compartmentalized way, I believe they cannot be separated. According to John Courtney Murray, freedom was always intended to be grounded in ethical values.
“Freedom was not conceived in terms of the sheer subjective autonomy of the will. Man’s freedom, like man himself, stood within the moral universe. It meant the objective right to act; it meant what Acton defined as “the right to do what one ought.”
John Courtney Murray, S.J., Freedom, Responsibility, and the Law, Woodstock Theological Library, Georgetown University
All Three Concepts Are Morally Defined
Here is an excerpt from a previous post I wrote that addresses the relationship between rights and responsibilities:
“Can rights and responsibilities be separated? Clearly they are both part of good citizenship and ethical leadership. But what happens if we try to separate them? If we demand our rights but fail to live up to our responsibilities, we will have a negative impact on others.
If we assert individual rights without also taking responsibility, we are asking for more than we are willing to give. We are conveying that what we want is more important than what others want. We are demanding that our needs be met without caring about what happens to others.
Under those circumstances the answer to “Can rights and responsibilities be separated?” is ‘Yes, but not ethically.'”
Linda Fisher Thornton, Leaders: Can Rights and Responsibilities Be Separated?, Leading in Context Blog
All three concepts – rights, responsibilities and freedom, fall within what John Courtney Murray called “the moral universe.” To be whole, then, arguments advocating rights and freedoms must include a willingness to take responsibility. As ethical leaders, we need to talk about them as a “package deal” to ensure that we are always taking responsibility for our actions.
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