Kenneth Pennington

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
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One of the most notable characteristics of Western societies has been the development of individual and group rights in legal, theological, and philosophical thought of the first two millennia. It has often been noted that thinkers in Non-Western societies have not had the same preoccupation with rights. The very concept of rights is laden with numerous problems. Universality is the most basic and difficult. If human rights are only a product of Western ideas of justice, they cannot have universality. In an age that is dominated by conceptions of law embracing some form of legal positivism, many scholars recognize only individual rights that have been established by the constitutional jurisprudence of individual countries or their legal systems. Historically, the emergence of rights in European jurisprudence is intimately connected with the terms ius naturale and lex naturalis in Western jurisprudence and theological thought. Human beings may never agree on universal rules of a natural law, but they might agree on universal precepts that shape the penumbra of rights surrounding natural rights.

Keywords: rights; ius naturale; lex naturalis; jurisprudence; natural rights; natural law; universality; human rights; legal positivism

Article.  7049 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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