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The Right of Necessity

Moral Cosmopolitanism and Global Poverty

Alejandra Mancilla

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Does recognition of the basic human right to subsistence imply that the needy are morally permitted to take and use other people’s property to get out of their plight? Should we respect the exercise of this right of necessity in a variety of scenarios – from street pickpocketing and petty theft to illegal squatting and encamping?

In this concise and accessible book, Alejandra Mancilla addresses these complex and controversial moral questions. The book presents a historical account of the concept of the right of necessity—from the medieval writings of Christian canonists and theologians to seventeenth century natural law theory. The author then goes on to ground this right in a minimal conception of basic human rights, and proposes some necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for its exercise. She confronts the main objections that may be posed against this principle and ultimately concludes that the exercise of this right should be considered as a trigger to secure a minimum threshold of welfare provisions for everyone, everywhere.


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Rowman & Littlefield International
Pages: 140Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-1-78348-585-7 • Hardback • August 2016 • $90.00 • (£60.00)
978-1-78348-586-4 • Paperback • August 2016 • $29.95 • (£19.95)
978-1-78348-587-1 • eBook • August 2016 • $28.99 • (£19.95)
Alejandra Mancilla is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN), University of Oslo, Norway. She is the co-editor of Theories of Justice (2012), and her articles have appeared, among others, in the Journal of Political Philosophy, Res Publica, the Journal of Applied Philosophy, and the Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.


Part I: Historical Accounts of the Right of Necessity / 2. The Right of Necessity as a Retreat to the Right of Common Use / 3. The Right of Necessity and the Pull of Self-preservation / Part II: The Right of Necessity and Global Poverty / 4. Justifying the Right of Necessity / 5. Content, Form and Conditions / 6. The Overdemandingness Objection / 7. The Right of Necessity within Moral Cosmopolitanism / Bibliography / Index
This is a theoretically sophisticated and conceptually innovative book which posits a cosmopolitan right of necessity and explores what responses are permissibly available to the poor in forcing change to unjust structures of poverty. This is a truly groundbreaking book that will no doubt arouse cosmopolitan reflection and debate about one of the most pressing issues facing the human condition.
Garrett Wallace Brown, Reader in Political Theory, Global Ethics and Global Health Policy, University of Sheffield


In contexts where unjust structures perpetuate deprivation or those who have responsibilities to assist fail to do so, what may those in need do to satisfy their basic right to subsistence? In this impressive work Alejandra Mancilla explores this question of high contemporary relevance and provides a welcome contribution to current debates on global justice.
Gillian Brock, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland, New Zealand


The Right of Necessity is philosophical argument at its best: direct, challenging, clearly written, and focused on an issue of utmost importance. Mancilla revives a traditional ethical view and shows its relevance to the world today. Future discussions about an ethical response to global poverty will need to take account of The Right of Necessity.
Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University and author of The Life You Can Save


Makes a substantive contribution to debates in global justice by looking at the problem of global poverty from a novel perspective.
Foregrounds the concept of a right of necessity through a well-informed historical analysis.
Offers an innovative moral analysis of contemporary cases and encourages the reader to rethink the practical implications of subsistence rights.
Ideal for advanced-level students looking for a guide to this complex and timely issue.


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