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Revisiting “The Four Loves”: The Four Rights

January 14, 2018 Featured Today No Comments


C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, which was published in 1960, is a classic. The author succeeded with his accustomed wit and wisdom in showing how four kinds of love — affection, friendship, amorous love, and charity — are both distinctive as well as interrelated. He penned this work just three years before he passed away. Had he lived a little longer he may have bequeathed to our confused world The Four Rights.
The four rights that I will attempt to delineate are also both distinctive as well as interrelated. As a method of demonstrating these two characteristics, I have chosen a third person narrative. Let us imagine the evolving life of Thomas who is intimately involved with each of these rights.
First of all, Thomas exists. His existence, the most fundamental act of his being, is the basis for the most elementary of his rights. Since he is, he has a right to be. No one can argue that he does not have such a right. His existence is his greatest gift since he would be nothing without it. Thomas exists and closely tied to his existence is the fact that he is living. He has a right to continue living because he ceases to be if his life is taken from him.
We observe that there is a profound instinct for self-preservation in all men. This instinct not only expresses itself in the desire to go on living but in the desire to develop and grow, forces that are deeply rooted in every human being. Thomas is acutely aware of these instinct, cherishes his existence, and want to go on living. His instincts are perfectly natural. Therefore the basis for Thomas’ rights to exist and go on living is the natural law.
But mere existing and living do not complete Thomas’ natural endowment. He also possesses an inclination to do something with his life so that he fulfills himself and advances toward his destiny. Therefore, his natural rights extend to his right to truth, to freedom, and to a knowledge of God. In short, he has a natural right to be fully himself. No one has the right to deny Thomas any of these natural rights.
Thomas becomes educated, earns an advanced degree, and applies for a position at a university. He signs a contract with the school’s president. He now has, by mutual consent, the right to teach at this particular institution. This is not a natural right, but one that is contractual. If the contract is violated by either part, a legal case may ensue that is adjudicated by a judge.
In parts of ancient Greece, a stick was used to represent a binding contract. Each party would retain a piece of the broken stick. The contract could be ratified when the two parts of the stick were reunited. The Greek word symbolon is an amalgam of syn + bole which means “throwing together.” The reunification of the stick would confirm that each party had a contractual right. Today, we understand a “symbol” as something that brings two things together, such as the American flag representing America.
Having his natural rights secured, as well as his contractual right to teach, Thomas enters the classroom and speaks to his students. He reminds them that since they have earned their way into his classroom, either by paying tuition or winning a scholarship, they have a right to be taught. This right is neither a natural right nor a contractual right but a claims right. Thomas, must honor their right to be taught by exercising his duty to teach. The students have a claim on their teacher, so to speak, that he teach them. If he fail to exercise his duty, the students as well as the school can take action.
Thomas now begins his first lecture. He asks his students whether they think everyone has a right to marry. He argues that marriage is a conditional right, which is to say that it is dependent on certain conditions being in place. Age, mutual consent, blood relation, sexual differences, and marital status are among these conditions. If these conditions are not met, there is no right to marry. For example, a man does not have the right to marry his daughter.
With regard to all of these rights, there must be a corresponding duty. Thomas has a right to life, but he is not safe unless others honor their duty not to harm him. Parties of a contract must be dutiful to each other. A claims right is meaningless unless someone dutifully fulfills that right. With regard to conditional rights, one has a duty not to violate any of the conditions. Rights and duties, in one way or another, are correlative. There are no rights without the appropriate corresponding duties.
The subject of rights is of critical importance in today’s moral climate because there is a clamor to use one kind of right in the place of another and omitting one kind of right altogether.
The most egregious example of this relates to abortion. The decision to abort assumes that the right to abortion as well as the right to life of the unborn are both conditional. Among these conditions are the will of the mother and the health of the unborn child. In this case, abortion, which violates a natural right, is regarded as exercising a conditional right. In addition, marriage, which is truly a conditional right, is being treated more and more as if it were an absolute right.
Rights and duties are opposite sides of the same coin. In some languages, a single word is used to signify both rights and duties. Of the two, however, it may be argued that duty is more important.
Thomas realizes at an early age that he has a duty to make something of his life. As he proceeds, he is met with unjust obstacles that block his development. He then claims that he has a right to be himself and that no one should arbitrarily stand in his way. A court may honor his rights, but only his conscience can activate his duties.
We would be wise if we put duty first. We have more control of ourselves than we have of others.

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