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Rights of the Individual


In The Essence of Right, the first volume of The Philosophy of Right, Rosmini describes the nature of right by positing its essence in person (`person is subsistent right') and in the relationship between persons. He also indicates a principle — `ownership' in the broadest sense of the word governing the derivation and determination of all human rights. In the present volume, he considers derived right itself from the point of view of the rights of the individual. Social right (domestic, ecclesial and civil) is the subject of later works.

Rights of individuals, Rosmini maintains, are either connatural, that is, come into being together with individual existence, or acquired, that is, dependent upon development in the individual of the faculty of ownership, an inalienable element proper to every person. In both cases rights, whether innate or acquired, are inviolable. Every attack made upon individual rights is an immoral attempt to harm the person who holds them.

The immorality of such a lesion of rights is rooted in the injury done to the person whose rights are invaded. Because rights are essentially concerned with what is `mine', they cannot be endangered without actual damage to the person I am, whom all are obliged to respect. The composition and generation of rights is dependent upon the power of ownership to promote in others the moral duty to respect the right of ownership, a spiritual faculty by which I extend my personship to all that belongs to me.

This duty of respect for rights is always absolute. Where rights are present, they must be respected. This does not mean, however, that all rights are unchangeable. Innate rights alone are immutable; acquired rights, which are totally dependent upon the persons growing appreciation of his own capacity for moral freedom of action, will correspond with the exercise of moral freedom over the matter of rights. In other words, what can be and is taken over by persons as `their own' or simply `theirs' can also be relinquished and abandoned to others.

Acquired rights are therefore limited by their generation (they can be acquired only when persons are morally free to extend their personship to some real fact), and by the elimination, willed or unwilled, of the fact to which personship is extended.

But even when the fact continues to exist, it may be expressed in different ways, or `modes' as Rosmini calls them. What is essential is that the value of the fact be preserved, although it is not always reasonable that the material aspect of the fact be maintained. The `modality' of rights is not co-terminous with the existence of rights itself.

The deliberately willed elimination of the fact constituting the matter of ownership takes place when rights are transmitted from one person to another. What was mine now becomes yours. How this comes about through abandonment, contract or succession is examined at length by Rosmini. He also deals extensively with the alteration in rights arising from their attempted violation, and with the exercise of sanctions destined to protect rights or to effect satisfaction for injured rights.

Entwined within this broad framework of derived right, Rosminis applications of his principles serve to focus attention on the relationship between the rights of individuals and the rights of society, between employers and employees, between masters and servants, between parents and children. His enlightened historical perspective also provides considerable food for thought about the development of rights and their different appreciation at various stages of social existence. In addition, he makes clear the path he will follow in his later treatment of social right in the family, Church and State.

Despite Rosminis highly philosophical approach, it is possible to see throughout the work immediate, present-day applications of apparently abstract principles. It also becomes very clear that human development is impossible without an ever-deepening understanding of the way in which rights are rooted in human nature and a fortiori in the light of being on which human nature depends for its dignity, worth and inviolability.

In our foreword to The Essence of Right, we indicated the reasons behind our use of certain terms in the translation. Here we add that servo has been translated `bond-servant'. Rosminis use of the word in this book always indicates not simply a person who works for a wage (`servant' in the modern English sense), but a person who is in some way bonded to the employer for whom he labours. Such bonding may include slavery of one kind or another. Likewise, servit has been translated as `servitude', which includes the notion of obligatory service, whatever the source of the obligation. Where Rosmini uses schiavo and schiavit, we translate slave and slavery.

February, 1993
Translated from
Filosofia del Diritto
Vol. I, Intra, 1865

Derived Rational Right


 Square brackets [ ] indicate other notes or additions by the translators.
[ . . . ] indicates an omission from the text.
References to this and other works of Rosmini are given by paragraph number unless otherwise stated.
Abbreviations used for Rosminis quoted works are:
AMS: Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science
CE: Certainty
CS: Conscience
ER: The Essence of Right
PE: Principles of Ethics
RI: Rights of the Individual
SC: The Summary Cause for the Stability or Downfall of Human Societies
SP: Society and its Purpose