Off-campus WSU users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your WSU access ID and password, then click the "Off-campus Download" button below.

Non-WSU users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Robert Yanal


In this dissertation I argue that the concept of a moral right is best explicated by means of the concept of morally legitimate coercion. This thesis, which I call the enforceability thesis, says that to have a right is to have a claim such that one would be justified in pursuing a course of action up to and including harm should the claim be (or be in imminent danger of becoming) dissatisfied. I contend that this thesis, if it is true, explains much about our intuitions concerning moral rights, accounts for the historical importance of rights-talk in the context of events such as revolutions and political reforms, and explains why rights are a necessary part of the moral vocabulary. If rights do not set out conditions under which coercion is morally appropriate, then they do nothing that other moral concepts could not do. Drawing on the work of H. L. A. Hart, John Rawls, and others, I argue that the philosophical strength and practical efficacy of rights on the enforceability thesis is best realized when rights are treated as action-guiding principles set within a framework of moral decision making under reflective equilibrium. Using the process of reflective equilibrium as a backdrop, I argue that rights can have sufficient normative force to play an important role in moral and political theory without being either impracticably stringent or subject to so many exceptions that they lose their efficacy. With this background in place I next set out and argue for a view of human rights which, because human rights turn out to be best understood as rights to primary goods, I call the theory of primary rights. The account I give of primary rights emphasizes their justificatory place in arguments for coercion, their importance to the moral integrity of the individual, and the practical applicability of the overarching theory of rights developed in this dissertation.

Off-campus Download