Catholic Dictionary




Either opposite to wrong (adjective) or that which is just (noun). In the first sense, right means that which squares with the norm of morality, and so is morally good. In the second sense, right means that which is correlative to duty. As a noun, therefore, right is opposed to might, although both are means to achieve an end. Might is physical power, either as one's own bodily strength or as the physical (and psychological) instruments under a person's command. Physical power accomplishes its purpose by sheer force, which is indifferent to the claims of justice and can be used to help or hinder the observance of the moral law. Might becomes good or evil according to the will that directs it.

Right is moral power and works by appeal to another's will through that person's intellect. It is the moral power to do, hold or exact something. To do here is to be understood both affirmatively and negatively; it means either to perform or omit an action, as a person may have the right to keep silent as well as to speak. To hold means to own, keep, or use something, and includes metaphorical meanings, such as to hold an office or job. To exact means to demand that someone else perform or omit some action, such as the state requires payment of taxes or a teacher exacts attention from his or her pupils. Right is consequently a subjective moral power that resides in the subject or person possessing it. By a figure of speech, the word right may also be applied to the thing over which one has a moral power. Thus we may say that one has been deprived of certain rights, meaning some object that rightfully belongs to him or her. (Etym. Anglo-Saxon riht, right; Latin rectus, right: straight, upright, conformed to some measure, just, true.)