Rethinking Rights and Responsibilities

The Moral Bonds of Community

Revised Edition

Arthur J. Dyck

"Arthur Dyck astutely describes the eroding protection offered today by formulations of human rights—in fact, by morality itself. His reconceptualization of human rights through an investigation of the requisites of community is brilliant!"
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As members of various and often conflicting communities, how do we reconcile what we have come to understand as our human rights with our responsibilities toward one another? With the bright thread of individualism woven through the American psyche, where can our sense of duty toward others be found? What has happened to our love—even our concern—for our neighbor?

In this revised edition of his magisterial exploration of these critical questions, renowned ethicist Arthur Dyck revisits and profoundly hones his call for the moral bonds of community. In all areas of contemporary life, be it in business, politics, health care, religion—and even in family relationships—the "right" of individuals to consider themselves first has taken precedence over our responsibilities toward others. Dyck contends that we must recast the language of rights to take into account our once natural obligations to all the communities of which we are a part.

Rethinking Rights and Responsibilities, at the nexus of ethics, political theory, public policy, and law, traces how the peculiarly American formulations of the rights of the individual have assaulted our connections with, and responsibilities for, those around us. Dyck critically examines contemporary society and the relationship between responsibilities and rights, particularly as they are expressed in medicine and health care, to maintain that while indeed rights and responsibilities form the moral bonds of community, we must begin with the rudimentary task of taking better care of one another.

Table of Contents


Part I: Conception of Rights Reexamined
Historical and Contemporary Views that Undermine Communal Bonds

1. Rights
A Historic Break with the Past
2. From Natural Rights to Calculated Rights
3. Natural Rights
Autonomy vs. Interdependence

Part II: Rights Reconceptualized
Grounding Rights in Responsibilities, Community, and Moral Knowledge

4. Moral Bonds as Requisites of Community
5. Rights Reconceptualized
Justice, Nurture, and Divorce in Western Law
6. Requisites of Morality, Freedom,adn Community
7. Moral Knowledge
Experiential Bases of Responsibilites and Rights
8. Moral Knowledge
Loving Impartiality
9. Moral Knowledge
Ideal Companionship

Part III: Reconceptualized Rights
Homicide Law and Health Care

10. The Moral Bases of Homicide Law
The Case against Assisted Suicide
11. Justice and Nurture
Rescue and Health Care as Rights and Responsibilities



"Dyck documents his concern that 'human rights are being seriously violated not only in practice, but in theory.' He shows that theories of rights have undermined human communities by emphasizing separation and that theories currently gaining prominence sacrifice individuals for the alleged benefit of larger numbers or of governments in power. In light of these alarming findings, Dyck formulates a theory of justice that relates rights to responsibilities. A challenging book for academic, seminary, and large public libraries."—Library Journal, reviewing a previous edition or volume

"Arthur Dyck's Rethinking Rights and Responsibilities offers a wise and compelling interpretation of the nature, role, and limits of modern human rights discourse. Linking rights talk with the rhetoric of responsibility, Dyck contends that the abstract rationalism and individualism of our regnant liberal theory belie the very moral bonds that sustain such discourse. One of the book's many virtues is its attention to the vexed issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and universal access to health care. His analysis is erudite, yet lucid; a rich and original contribution that should enjoy a wide and appreciative audience."—William O'Neill, SJ, associate professor of social ethics, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley/Graduate Theological Union

"Arthur Dyck astutely describes the eroding protection offered today by formulations of human rights—in fact, by morality itself. His reconceptualization of human rights through an investigation of the requisites of community is brilliant!"—John F. Kilner, president, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

"Dyck takes seriously the attacks on human rights theory from feminists, communitarians, Marxists, and other critics of modernity. He sorts their arguments to show where they have exposed flaws in widely held views, and where these criticisms falter also. Then he offers a view of human rights as the moral requisites for a bonded mutuality, and defends it with a fresh 'natural theology.' This may well be his masterwork. It clearly deserves wide attention."—Max L. Stackhouse, Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This is an eminently readable work that is thorough and undeniably profound and original. Dyck unearths kernels of simple, brilliant truths out of this vast and often inaccessible area. Readers will rediscover human rights through Dyck's mastery of this subject."—The Honourable Michael J. Bryant, Attorney General, Minister Responsible for Native Affairs, and Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, Ontario, Canada


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Arthur J. Dyck is Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics in the School of Public Health, and a member of the Faculty of Divinity at Harvard University.

360 pp., 6 x 9

Feb 2005

360 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-035-2
Feb 2005

360 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-406-0
Feb 2005

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