General Question

laureth's avatar

What is the difference between "rights" and "privileges"?

Asked by laureth (27083 points ) March 18th, 2009

It’s my opinion that “rights” are things that are your due just for being there, but “privileges” are things that are earned. I’d like to know your take. Here are some things to consider:

1. I’ve heard that marriage is a privilege, not a right, but I didn’t really do anything to earn my privilege to marry. We just did it.

2. I’ve heard that some things like health care and food are “rights,” but in nature, these things don’t just appear before you to feed and care for you – someone, like a doctor or farmer, must “earn” them by their work. So these sound like privileges to me.

3. Are rights the things that are granted by an authority (like a government), and the things not thereby granted are not rights, or are rights things that are inherent and if they are not granted by the local authority, that authority is violating rights?

4. Is a right something that you are entitled to (like health care or marriage, for example), or is it simply your right to be free to pursue things (like a job, to pay for health care) unhindered?

(For what it’s worth, this is NOT HOMEWORK. It’s just a topic that came up at lunch today and I remembered to ask the Collective later.)

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29 Answers

qualitycontrol's avatar

Rights: things you should be able to do
Priveleges: things the government “let’s” you do

Allie's avatar

A right is something that should be yours no matter who you are – food, clean water, etc. Notice I said should since it isn’t always the case that those rights are distributed.

A privileged is something that is allowed. The privilege of running for office, for example. Not everyone is allowed to do that. There are certain criteria you must meet in order to be able to be elected to office. Being able to run for US President is a privilege that is given to United States citizens who have lived in America for 14 years who is also over the age of 35.

augustlan's avatar

I think of ‘rights’ as being a given, something you are entitled to just for being a human being. Though they can be enforced by law, they can’t really (legitimately) be granted or taken away… they just are.

Privilege is a conditional thing. You may or may not have to earn it to get it, but you must maintain a certain standard to keep it.

Bluefreedom's avatar

Score 2 points for the moderators. Really good answers @Allie and @augustlan, in my humble opinion. Rather than try to answer this on my own and probably fail in the process, I’ll just agree with what both of you wrote because it makes so much sense. Nice work.

cookieman's avatar

I agree with @augustlan and @laureth’s initial statement.

Privledges are earned. At the very least, maintaining the privledge must be earned.

I also don’t believe that marriage is a privledge. It is clearly a right of consenting adults. If it’s a privledge then who grants that privledge? What does one have to do to earn it? Who monitors this privledge?

Sounds like someone trying to control something they shouldn’t.

LanceVance's avatar

Food is not a right. At least as far as i know.

laxrrockr18's avatar

Rights=what you are able to do without government or superior authority interfering.
Privileges=are what you are able to do because it is not a law, or rule

O, wait those are the same….......................(chirp chirp chirp)

A_Beaverhausen's avatar

someone dies to give you rights, you have to earn privileges.

Harp's avatar

Privilege may not always be earned. That’s the accepted view in our society, but there are many examples in the world of privilege being based on accidents of birth. The Indian caste system is an extreme example, as is any system that recognizes hereditary nobility. American citizenship can be either an earned or unearned privilege.

Rights generally apply indiscriminately to all members of a group, but don’t necessarily extend to people outside of that group. We consider that there are rights accorded to every American citizen, the right to vote for example, that we don’t extend to non-citizens. Many of these rights derive from political decisions: is it in the interest of a well-functioning society to accord such a right?

Some rights we do hold to be universal, those that we call “human rights”. These seem to derive from some common sense of morality and justice, and so would appear to be above political considerations, but even these have to be established by convention.

If something has the status of a “right”, then no entity can legally prevent a person from enjoying that right. Sometimes various rights come into conflict and courts must decide which right prevails.

Rights which constitute an obligation on the part of the government (or other institution) to provide support would be not just a right, but an entitlement.

In the end, some authority always ends up deciding whether something is a right or a privilege, even if it’s a decision by default.

laureth's avatar

See, the way I think of it is thus: if I have a right to health care or food, just because I’m a human being, then it should be provided for me whether I do anything to get it or not. However, if I stand outside all hungry and say, “Hey! I have a right to some food and medical care!” – nothing happens. And if, somehow, these things are provided, they are at the expense of someone else’s right to enjoy the fruits of their own labor.

However, even if it’s a famine and everyone is starving, I can go outside and yell, “I have a right to do my darndest to grow some food!” – and I do. I believe I have the right to try to live the best way that I can. I think, though, that if food is provided to me because I ask for it, then it is somehow more of a privilege, because other people are giving it to me out of the goodness of their hearts. I can’t claim their food as a right.

@Harp: “If something has the status of a “right”, then no entity can legally prevent a person from enjoying that right.”

But people can, and do, legally take away rights every day in the U.S. – a prisoner does not have the right to liberty (and usually not the pursuit of happiness), and may not even have the right of life, depending upon how bad the crime is. It would seem that if they can be legally taken away, they are more like privileges than rights.

@A_Beaverhausen: Dies? Really? I think that’s pretty extreme. In Canada, for instance, they seem to believe that universal health care is a right. Did people die for that, or was it a matter of legislation?

@cprevite: re Marriage – exactly right.

@augustlan: Agreement here. Would you agree to my response to Harp, though?

@Allie: Can nature take away a person’s rights? Some people live where there is no food, or no clean water. If they are due these things, others must provide them. How can this be done without taking away rights from the providers of such things?

marinelife's avatar

Rights and privileges are determined by the societies that embody and enforce them.

Separate from that is whether there are moral or ethical rights.

In this culture, our written laws grant us the right to live as free people, the right to pursue happiness. They do not grant us the rights to food or health care, which I think ethically societies should grant.

Harp's avatar

@laureth It’s the definition of the group to whom the rights apply that makes it so. Full rights apply to those who are law-abiding citizens. Non-citizens constitute another group, and criminals yet another. Criminal non-citizens are another group still. Each has a specific set of rights. As one moves from one group to another, one’s rights change accordingly. But no entity can legally prevent you from enjoying the rights accorded to your group.

The groups can be defined by privilege, but the rights that obtain in that group apply to all members.

Allie's avatar

@laureth Sure. There are some things a person should get no matter what, simply for existing. Whether they receive them or not is another thing. People may not get to enjoy their rights for whatever reason – poverty, corrupt governments, scare resources, so on and so on. Just because you don’t have them doesn’t mean you lose the right to have them.

Jack79's avatar

I think Harp’s explanation was pretty good. From what I understand, a right is something that (theoretically) everyone is entitled to, whereas a priviledge is an extra perk for certain people within the group (whether it’s earned or not is irrelevant).

So everyone has the right to food, but rich people have the priviledge of tastier food, which in your second example laureth makes more sense: when there is a famine, the ability to eat becomes a priviledge for the few.

Or everyone has the right to an attorney, but if you are priviledged enough to have the best lawyer in the country as your uncle, then you’ll actually get a better trial. “Priviledged” is basically this extra edge that may often be the result of something you have earned (the US President has the priviledge of living in the White House), been born with (the Queen has the priviledge of living in Buckingham Palace) or simply happen to have (I have the priviledge of living in my grandmother’s house, because she loved me and then she died and left it to me).

loser's avatar

I just have to ask, so gays should have the right to get married? It’s not some special priviledge that needs to be earned.

cookieman's avatar

@loser: Yes, people who are gay should have the right to get married. Same as staights.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Many people think driving is a right; it’s not, it’s a privilege. I’m not going to get into the gay thing, not because I don’t believe that gay unions aren’t right, but because I do. I think anyone who wants to be married should be given the opportunity. Well, unless you want to marry a cow or the sofa. I draw the line at animals and furniture.

gooch's avatar

In the US we have a Bill of Rights which are listed everything else is a privilege.

augustlan's avatar

The ability to marry as consenting adults is in no way a privilege. You need not do anything to earn it or keep it, beyond loving and being loved. As a straight woman, I consider it a right. As such, everyone should have that right.

laureth's avatar

@gooch – re: having listed rights, and everything else is a privilege.

I totally disagree, and so does the Constitution. I present the 9th Amendment of the Constitution:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Judi's avatar

Privileges are more easily revocable than rights.

jo_with_no_space's avatar

Rights = things that you are legally enabled/entitled to do without any justifiable backlash. A problematic concept in today’s realization of the term.

Priveleges = things that you’re able to do freely, but more as luxuries that could be withdrawn at any time, and hold usually no legal standing.

CMaz's avatar

It is a privilege to have rights but it is not your right to have privileges.
That has to be earned.

josie's avatar

If you have to ask permission or buy a license, it means the government took away that particular right.

laureth's avatar

@josie – Would you say that sometimes this is a good thing? For example, if I want to hunt on your land, I would need to ask you, because you have property rights over the land; I don’t.

josie's avatar

@laureth Different issue. I was talking about asking permission of the government.
You never had a right to hunt on my property, because it was mine in the first place. You can always ask my permission, and I might grant it, but you never had the right in the first place.

laureth's avatar

So, only if you have to ask “the government” is it something they “took away.” See, there are so many other things that we have to ask for, from not-the-government, that I was sure you couldn’t possibly mean that the government took all of that away.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Rights require no sanction whereas a privilege is sanctioned act.

Mekuss's avatar

Yea.right is something that you deserve,is a reasonable claim to freedom in the exercise of certain activities.

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