Topoi

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 313–325 | Cite as

Do Rights Exist by Convention or by Nature?

Article

Abstract

I argue that all rights exist by convention. According to my definition, a right exists by convention just in case its justification appeals to the rules of a socially shared pattern of acting. I show that (i) our usual justifications for rights are circular, that (ii) a right fulfills my criterion if all possible justifications for it are circular, and that (iii) all existing philosophical justifications for rights are circular or fail. We find three non-circular alternatives in the literature, viz. justifications of rights by consequences, by autonomy or by divine commands. I show that all three alternatives fail, and I conclude that all rights exist by convention. This ontological result has a surprising and beneficial consequence. A common argument against conventionalism is that it implies cultural relativism. I finish by showing that the suggested conventionalism is incompatible with cultural relativism.

Keywords

Natural rights Convention Practice Hume’s Circle GEM Anscombe WN Hohfeld 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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