Whose rights? A critique of individual agency as the basis of rights

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (2):139-171 (2009)
Abstract
I argue that individuals may be as problematic political agents as groups are. In doing so, I draw on theory from economics, philosophy, and computer science and evidence from psychology, neuroscience, and biology. If successful, this argument undermines agency-based justifications for embracing strong notions of individual rights while rejecting the possibility of similar rights for groups. For concreteness, I critique these mistaken views by rebutting arguments given by Chandran Kukathas in his article `Are There Any Cultural Rights?' that groups lack the temporal coherence, political independence, and indivisibility of individuals. I also show how formal critiques of group agency from social science (in particular, Arrow's Impossibility Theorem) can be applied as reasonably to individuals as groups. Because these symmetries between groups and individuals undermine common implicit assumptions in political philosophy, I argue that they may have broader implications for liberal political theory, as they emphasize the importance of intrapersonal justice. Key Words: moral individualism • group rights • social choice theory • liberalism • communitarianism • behavioral economics.
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