Rethinking Groups: Groups, Group Membership and Group Rights

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (2001)
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Abstract

Is there something special about group rights? Many would say "yes". For some, only certain kinds of groups---ones that are oppressed, or play a special role in well-being---may have rights. For others, the kind of group is not as important as the group's culture and internal structure. At the very least, many argue, group rights ought to be more restricted than individualistic ones. For these reasons, arguing the merits of a group right is often thought to require a theory of groups or of group identity. If only certain kinds of groups may have rights then one has to identify the roles that various groups and/or identities play in personal well-being. If a group's culture or internal structure must meet certain standards then one must develop a theory of how culture or the internal organization of a minority influences people. ;I argue that it is a mistake to think that arguing a group right requires a theory of groups. This mistake reflects a tendency to think about group membership as a kind of good and to focus on its internal, psychological significance. But if one thinks about group membership as a vehicle of action, and focuses on the concrete effects it may have, it becomes apparent that arguing for a group right does not require a theory of groups, group identity or culture. For in the end, the issues that one must address in arguing a group rights are issues about groups. Rather, they are issues about political and moral authority, and about the extent to which moral and political norms ought to recognize and reinforce the ways that people depend upon one another. These are important issues and they raise pressing questions for political philosophy. But they are not about groups

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Cindy Holder
University of Victoria

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