Re-thinking Rights: Historical Development and Philosophical Justification takes a new look at the history of individual rights, focussing on the way that philosophers have written that history. The scholastics and early modern writers used the notion of natural rights to debate the big moral and political questions of the day, such as the treatment of Indigenous Americans under Spanish rule. John Locke put natural rights at the centre of liberal political thought. But as the idea grew in strength and influence, empiricist and positivist philosophers punctured it with attacks of logical incompetence and illegitimate appeals to theology and metaphysics. Philosophers then turned to law and jurisprudence for the philosophical analysis of rights, where it has largely stayed ever since. Eleanor Curran argues that the dominance of the Hohfeldian analysis of (legal) rights has restricted our understanding of moral and political rights and led to distorted readings of historical writers on rights. It has also led to the separation of right from the important related notion of liberty—freedoms are now seen as inferior to claims. Curran looks at recent philosophy of human rights and suggests a way forward for justifying universal moral and political rights and separating them from legal rights.
Eleanor Curran is honorary senior lecturer in the Philosophy Department and Law School at the University of Kent.
Part I: The History of Rights Theory
Chapter 1. The Beginning: The Rise of the Idea of Natural Rights
Chapter 2. The Philosophical Discrediting of Natural Law and Natural Rights
Chapter 3. Does Hobbes Rather than Locke Provide a Forerunner to Modern Theories of Rights?
Chapter 4. The Jurisprudential Turn in Rights Theorising
Chapter 5. Reading Historical Writing on Rights: The Distorting Influence of Hohfeld
Part II: Current and Future Rights Theory: Assessing the Philosophy of Rights
Chapter 6. The Continuing Dominance of Hohfeld
Chapter 7. Current Theories of Rights: The Will and Interest Theories and Theories of Human Rights
Chapter 8. Thoughts for Future Rights Theorising
Eleanor Curran’s excellent book, Rethinking Rights, surveys the philosophy of legal rights, its history and current importance. The book’s purpose is “to examine the history of rights theory and the effects of that history and how it has been written, on how philosophers think about rights today….” [This book is] vividly thought-provoking, and its discussion is always stimulating. Its relative brevity should encourage readers to engage with its clearly-forged and economically expressed doctrines, and anyone wishing to gain familiarity with the territory of modern rights theories and their history can be well advised to read it.
Eleanor Curran is one of the premier theorists of the history of philosophy of individual rights, beginning with rights in the seminal thought of Thomas Hobbes. In her new book, which elucidates conceptions of natural rights from scholastic and early modern conceptions through empiricist and positivist attacks on those, Curran persuasively argues that we should reject the dominant Hohfeldian conception of rights as legal claims in favor of a novel way of justifying universal moral and political rights that separates them from most legal rights. Her argument that doing so provides a superior path for justifying universal moral and political rights is one that no serious theorist of rights can afford to ignore.