Volume 14, 1988/1989
David M. Adams
In Defense of the Autonomy of Rights
Several philosophers, including most prominently Theodore Benditt, have recently urged that the discourse of rights, widely thought to be a central, if not foundational feature of moral and political thought, is in reality a mere “redundant” appendage---a discourse that holds no distinctive place in moral or legal reasoning owing to the fact that it is thoroughly derivative because collapsible into other forms of moral or legal language. In this paper I attempt to (1) flesh out this “Redundancy” Thesis (RT) and (2) identify and criticize at least two general arguments that might be thought to give rise to it: the claims that rights reduce (respectively) to duties (the Correlativity Thesis) or to permissions (the Permissibility Thesis). I try to show how and why these arguments fail and why they do not therefore support RT.