Toward a theory of empirical natural rights

Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (1):111-147 (2005)
Abstract
Natural rights theorists such as John Locke and Robert Nozick provide arguments for limited government that are grounded on the individual's possession of natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Resting on natural rights, such arguments can be no more persuasive than the underlying arguments for the existence of such rights, which are notoriously weak. In this article, John Hasnas offers an alternative conception of natural rights, “empirical natural rights,” that are not beset by the objections typically raised against traditional natural rights. Empirical natural rights are rights that evolve in the state of nature rather than those that individuals are antecedently endowed with in that state. Professor Hasnas argues that empirical natural rights are true natural rights, that is, pre-political rights with natural grounds that can be possessed in the state of nature, and that, when taken together, they form a close approximation of the Lockean rights to life, liberty, and property. He furthers argues that empirical natural rights are normatively well-grounded because respecting them is productive of social peace, which possesses instrumental moral value regardless of one's conception inherent value. Professor Hasnas thus offers his conception of rights as solved problems as an alternative and potentially more secure footing for the traditional natural rights arguments for limited government associated with Locke and Nozick. Footnotesa I wish to thank my fellow contributors to this volume, Ellen Frankel Paul, and Ann C. Tunstall of SciLucent, LLC, for their exceedingly helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay, and Annette Hasnas for the keen insight she provided into how human beings behave in the state of nature.
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