The language of rights and conceptual history

Journal of Religious Ethics 37 (2):193-207 (2009)
The historical problem about the origins of the language of rights derives its importance from the conceptual problem: of "two fundamentally different ways of thinking about justice," which is basic? Is justice unitary or plural? This in turn opens up a problem about the moral status of human nature. A narrative of the origins of "rights" is an account of how and when a plural concept of justice comes to the fore, and will be based on the occurrence of definite speech-forms—the occurrence of the plural noun in the sense of "legal properties." The history of this development is currently held to begin with the twelfth-century canonists. Later significant thresholds may be found in the fourteenth, sixteenth, and eighteenth centuries. Wolterstorff's attempt to find the implicit recognition of rights in the Scriptures depends very heavily on what he takes to be implied rather than on what is stated, and at best can establish a pre-history of rights-language.
Keywords moral ontology  conceptual history  singular rights  multiple rights  modernity  justice
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2009.00382.x
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Leo Strauss (1979). Natural Right and History (Chicago, 1953). The Correspondence Between Ethical Egoists and Natural Rights Theorists is Considerable Today, as Suggested by a Comparison of My" Recent Work in Ethical Egoism," American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (2):1-15.

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