Friday, May 31, 2019

Alec D. Walen's "The Mechanics of Claims and Permissible Killing in War"

Alec D. Walen is a professor at Rutgers University, with a joint appointment in Law, Philosophy, and Criminal Justice. He has published numerous articles on topics in moral philosophy, criminal law, constitutional law, national security law, and just war theory. The central focus of his current work is articulating a view of rights that reflects a fundamental moral commitment to autonomy, equality, and the value of human welfare.

Walen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Mechanics of Claims and Permissible Killing in War, and reported the following:
This text based off of page100; page 99 is the last page of Chapter 3 and has few lines, so anyone turning there to get a sense of the book would likely include the following page:
This chapter [4] covers two basic themes. First, I argue that the mechanics of claims is substantively preferable to the infringement model. I do that in two ways. First, I consider the main reason to adopt the infringement model: its account of the duty to compensate those who are “rightfully wronged.” I argue that this model is inferior to the account of compensation that one can find in the mechanics of claims. Second, I review four other problems that I think are particularly telling against the infringement model. Then I turn to the second theme, acknowledging the limits of the mechanics of claims and the need for some notion of threshold deontology. But I also explain how threshold deontology can complement the mechanics of claims.

1. A Fresh Approach to Compensation

I believe that the main reason the infringement model has captured the imagination of most moral philosophers is that it is taken to provide a good account of the fact that sometimes it seems permissible for A to do X, but it also seems that P’s right that A not do X is still in play in the sense that it leaves a “moral residue,” including but not limited to a right to compensation if A does X. In this section, I argue, first, that the infringement model does not have an advantage over the mechanics of claims in terms…
This text reflects the core of my book, which is an argument for a different way of thinking about rights. As I say in the text quoted above, I think most people who take rights seriously do so reflexively using what I call “the infringement model.” This is a model according to which if P has a right against A, a right that A do X, then there are three ways A can respond to P’s right.

To see how, let’s make it more concrete by suppose that X is “not kill P.”

A can respect the right by not killing P. Or she can either infringe or violate the right by killing P. If she has a good enough reason to kill P, so that killing P is morally justified despite P’s right that A not kill him, then A infringes P’s right. If she is not morally justified, all things considered, in killing P, then by killing him she violates his right.

According to the infringement model, both infringing P’s right and violating his right wrong P; they both leave P with a complaint against A. P’s complaint if A merely infringed his right is a complaint that grounds a right of compensation (presumably owed to next of kin) and perhaps other responses such as apology (also owed to next of kin). What more could P’s complaint be if A violated his right? Maybe more compensation or a better apology. But in truth, the only difference accepted by the infringement model is that A not only wronged P, but acted wrongly all things considered. The difference has nothing to do with P’s right.

I think that’s odd. I think we should say that P can complain about being wronged only if A acted wrongly and P’s right explains why.

To explain that and many other features of rights, I develop a different account of rights, that I call “the mechanics of claims.” This makes rights the output of a balance, but not a balance of utilities or interests. Rather, rights result from a balance of normative things already operate in the “space of rights”: claims.
Learn more about The Mechanics of Claims and Permissible Killing in War at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue