The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece with the headline, “Parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum. They don’t.” Toward the end of the article, the authors argue for the title’s claim by appealing to the precedents set by law. Even if parents remove their children from the public schools, “parental rights remain subject to state regulation and override.”
As a student of philosophy, what catches my attention is the perspective on rights. What are our rights? More importantly, where do they come from? Why do we have them? Only when this question is answered — and it is a philosophical question, not an educational or legal question — can we begin to answer questions about who has what rights. Everyone has a philosophy about rights, whether he realizes it or not. Everyone has a philosophy, whether it has been examined or unexamined, adopted through reason or indoctrinated through society. It is important, though, to seek the truth about this matter since claims about rights take center stage in political discourse. (By the way, the nature and purpose of government is another philosophical topic.)
The authors of the Post article seem to think that our rights are given to us by the government. No other appeal is made to any other source of rights. Whether the authors have any other personal convictions about rights is not clear.
The philosopher is concerned with asking the question whether or not the government is our only source of rights. If that were the case, then it would never make any sense to argue that the government is not granting people their rights. If women in some countries are not granted the right to an education, then they do not have that right, and there is no basis for arguing that they do have that right since the only source of rights is from the government. This also means that there is no right we enjoy that cannot be taken from us by the government.
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