Duncan Ivison
General Editor John Shand
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The language of rights pervades modern social and political discourse, yet there is deep disagreement amongst citizens, politicians and philosophers about just what rights are. In this comprehensive and engaging introduction to rights, Duncan Ivison pays particular attention to their political character: the way arguments about rights are characterized by disagreement and conflict and by movement between the moral and the legal and the abstract and the practical. Ivison presents three basic ways of thinking about rights - as statuses, instruments and conduits - and, drawing on the history of political thought and contemporary political theory, explores the different ways these frameworks shape particular theories of rights. He uses some of the current debates over the threat of global terrorism to explore the nature of rights, especially those civil and political rights at the heart of liberal democracy. Various critiques of rights - Marxist, postmodernist and feminist - are examined and the book concludes by exploring what, exactly, we should want from a theory of human rights today and what role this theory should play in global politics. The book offers a distinctive integration of history and theory as applied to questions about the nature of rights today and is ideally suited for students taking courses on moral and political philosophy, political theory and the history of political thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9487-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The aim of this book is to explore different arguments about rights in the context of various rich languages of moral and political philosophy. Locating rights in the midst of moral and politicalargumentis crucial. Rights are often appealed to as part of a vision of the individual as radically disengaged from thick ethical theories that bind her to particular social roles or hierarchies. The idea of rights as providing a boundary around the individual, or at least around certain crucial aspects of her freedom, has been an influential image in the history of political thought. The image is...

  5. 1 A naturalistic approach
    (pp. 17-36)

    Before we begin to engage with the various substantive theories of rights on offer, I want to lay out my approach to these questions a bit more explicitly. Although the book is intended as an introduction, among other things, its structure and organization reflect my own substantive views about the subject. How could it not? There are three ways in which I am going to approach the question of rights and I want to introduce them here: first, we should think of rights as representing acomplex social practice; secondly, we shall aim for what I shall call anaturalistic...

  6. 2 Natural law and natural rights
    (pp. 37-61)

    One of the most straightforward ways of thinking about rights is to say that people just have them: that it is a basic moral fan about persons. Just as our conception of a person includes things such as “has reason” or “is a conscious being”, so it includes the idea that people have rights. The American philosopher Robert Nozick famously opened his critique of liberal egalitarianism,Anarchy,State and Utopia, with this claim: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)” (1974: ix). Nozick was drawing on a rich...

  7. 3 Rights as property
    (pp. 62-93)

    One familiar way of making sense of rights is to think of them as related to control over our property and ourselves. This intuition lies behind the attractiveness of the “choice” theory of rights that we discussed in Chapter 1. In this chapter, I want to take a closer look at this way of understanding rights, which also has interesting connections with the natural law tradition, which we have been discussing in Chapter 2. Central here is the notion of self-ownership; I “own” myself in the sense that no one else has the right to use my body, or control...

  8. 4 Dignity
    (pp. 94-127)

    Rights are connected to substantive views about the nature of persons. They are a way of expressing what it would mean to treat someoneasa person, and as a citizen of a particular kind of state or political community. Rights also emerged in relation to a particular set of historical circumstances. They are associated with a concern about the kinds of threats that individuals face from the exercise of social and political power, by both the state and other powerful political actors. It is not just a matter of who should rule, but how there can be any legitimate...

  9. 5 Recognition
    (pp. 128-153)

    So far we have been concentrating on theories of rights that are closely aligned to the notion of law, which is not unsurprising. Right and law are indeed closely related. But there are different modes of juridical thought. We have been exploring some of these differences in our discussion of Grotius, Hobbes, Pufendorf, Locke and Kant. The differences between these philosophers are as significant, I think, as their shared commitment to the centrality of law to the language of rights, and to politics more generally. I also noted that civic humanism and republicanism (especially the neo-Roman conceptions of freedom) offered...

  10. 6 Rights, consequences and terrorism
    (pp. 154-179)

    In Chapter 1 I suggested that we look at rights in three ways: as statuses, instruments and conduits. Up until now we have been exploring at least four different ways in which rights can be understood to refer to the fundamentalstatusof persons, whether as the workmanship of God, as possessing some crucial moral faculty, as possessing inherent dignity or as constituted by mutual recognition. In Chapters 6 and 7, we turn to the notion of rights asinstrumentsandconduits. Of course, they can be all three of these things at once, as we shall see, and part...

  11. 7 Rights as conduits
    (pp. 180-197)

    So far we have seen how rights are used to mark the moral status or standing of agents in various ways. We have also explored how they can be understood as instruments to promote certain goals, whether “utility”, equality of resources or welfare. But they can also, I shall argue, be understood asconduits, that is, as modes for distributing capabilities and forms of power and influence and thus shaping behaviour as much as constraining it. The key idea here is that rights are often implicated in various relations of power as much as they are a means of criticizing...

  12. 8 Human rights
    (pp. 198-234)

    The simplest way to define human rights is to say that they are those rights that all human beings have just by virtue of being human. They are rights that individuals have, in other words, not because of any special relations with others, or through membership of a particular society, but simply by being human. But it then becomes apparent that we need to say more about exactly what those rights are, and to what and to whom the corresponding duties refer. And to do that we have to show how those rights derive from the relevant sense of our...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 235-257)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 258-275)
  15. Index
    (pp. 276-288)