Philosophy 70:513 (1995)

The concept of rights is among the more thoroughly examined in political philosophy. Nonetheless, it remains ontologically elusive and morally problematical. In the form of an allegedly natural endowment bequeathed by the Stoic philosophers, it was famously dismissed by Bentham as ‘nonsense on stilts’. Chiefly by way of natural law theory and versions of Kantian moral philosophy rights arise at once from the presupposed autonomy of rational beings and from certain duties others have to beings of such a kind. Within this tradition it is argued that morality itself is grounded in the autonomy of rational beings and that whatever overrides this autonomy converts such beings to instrumental means. Accordingly, there is a basic right to be regarded as a moral being and it is this right that generates or is foundational for the rest. Debate continues, of course, on such questions as to whether autonomy per se either logically or morally requires dutiful respect and whether rationality per se is either a necessary or a sufficient condition for autonomy itself
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DOI 10.1017/S0031819100065773
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