A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand (2009)
The modern language of rights provides a contemporary idiom for certain ancient and perennial questions about the nature of morality. These include debates about the objectivity and universality of ethics and the nature of human obligation, freedom and action. Jeremy Bentham famously denounced natural rights, arguing that if morality was founded upon pain and pleasure, then there could be no such thing as natural rights: ‘Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts’ (Bentham 1970: 30–1). This article considers the concept of rights more generally and considers its relation to law.