Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Need vs. the Right to Freedom - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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The Need vs. the Right to Freedom - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The Need vs. the Right to Freedom
Review of Alan Gewirth, Reason and Morality. Ethics 89 (July 1979):401–414.
Has Alan Gewirth succeeded in justifying, on deontological grounds (that is, on the grounds of moral obligation), an absolute right to freedom and well-being? Professor Henry Veatch answers a ‘reluctant’ no, because Gewirth neglects natural-law ethics.
Veatch locates a basic non sequitur in Gewirth’s move from the proposition that any agent, qua agent, must value freedom and well-being, to the conclusion that the agent has a right to value freedom and well-being. Presumably, Gewirth has no trouble establishing that any human agent must value freedom and well-being. In the very act of trying to renounce or surrender his freedom, for example, the agent would be doing so freely and purposively. But why should the move from ‘must value’ to ‘right’ be any less questionable than any immediate inference from ‘is’ to ‘ought’? That is, how can something (such as pursuing freedom) be a right simply because it (freedom) must be desired, any more than can something (such as pursuing masochism) be desirable simply because it happens to be desired?
Now, if Gewirth were willing to say that things like freedom and well-being are right to desire because they are (ontologically) naturally good, rather than saying that these things are good and right to pursue because we must (deontologically) desire them, his justification problem might be solved. For then the independent value or desirability of freedom and well-being (along with the promise that one is right to pursue what is independently valuable or desirable) would yield the conclusion that one is right to pursue freedom and well-being. But Gewirth seems to rule out this type of maneuver almost a priori.
This natural law approach assumes that agents can know what is objectively good or right, quite apart from how they behave or feel towards that which is good or right. Gewirth, however, believes that he must ground his justification on the necessary presuppositions and facts of human behavior and feeling. Thus, Gewirth’s rigorous and non-formal justification for deontological ethics may be limited by starting with the presuppositions of human action, rather than with the broader, ontological setting for that action.