The Wall Street Journal’s daily newsletter by James Taranto, The Best of the Web Today, debunks a quote floating around the Internet to support the “right” to health care paid for by government. The blurb has been attributed to a translation from the writings of Aristotle, a translation from the original Greek by Robert F. Kennedy.
Unfortunately, the first reference to the quote is from 10 years after Senator Kennedy died, is credited to someone else, and the original cannot be found in the existing works of Aristotle.
From an article by Edmond Pellegrino, the last chairman of President Bush’s President’s Bioethics Council, written in 2008:
In attempts to establish the provenance of the text in question we have conducted an extensive search for its source and original wording. We have not been able to locate it. Our initial curiosity was aroused by several things, including that rights language did not seem to have the Aristotelian context, and health care, as such, was not included in Aristotle’s works. We searched Nicomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics, and the Magna Moralia without successfully locating the quote. Nor could we find it in other of works of Aristotle: On Length and Shortness of Life, De Anima, Economics or the Fragments. “Rights” language certainly would stick out in Aristotle’s virtue-based ethics.
That article by Dr. Pellegrino is available in pdf, here,thanks to the WSJ and Georgetown Bioethics.