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In philosophical and legal arguments, it is commonly assumed that a person is wronged only if that person has had a right violated. This assumption is often viewed almost as a necessary conceptual truth: to be wronged is to have one's right violated, and to have a right is to be one who stands to be wronged. I will argue that this assumption is incorrect—that having a right and standing to be wronged are distinct and separable moral phenomena.

My argument begins from cases in which third parties are affected by the violation of someone else's rights. I will introduce four general types of cases in which some third party seems to be wronged even though no right of hers is violated. These cases arise because we have important commitments and practices associated with having a right and with being wronged—commitments and practices that do not always line up with one another. Only by recognizing that rights and wrongings can come apart, I argue, can we preserve the roles that both moral phenomena play in our lives.

In addition to more accurately capturing our moral lives, I also believe that this recognition may be philosophically fruitful. It may add a new layer to recent work on the directedness of moral obligations. It may offer a path forward in the stalled debate between interest theories and will theories over the nature of rights. And, practically speaking, I believe that it can safeguard against certain common and tempting yet problematic inferences.


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Work published when author not on Michigan Law faculty.