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Which Rights Should Be Universal?$
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William Talbott

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195173475

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195173473.001.0001

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Which Rights Should Be Universal?

William Talbott (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

In this chapter, Talbott considers the Hobbesian social contract defense of autocracy as necessary to solve its citizens’ collective action problems. He argues that human beings are able to form stable rights-respecting democracies that solve their collective action problems, because while human beings are not angels (who always act from the moral standpoint), neither are they devils (who never act from the moral standpoint). He reviews Sen’s research on famines and psychological research on the ultimatum game and related games to show that most people are willing to incur at least small costs to promote fairness. Therefore, rights-respecting democracies (where rights are enforced by an independent judiciary) are able to solve the reliable feedback problem and the appropriate responsiveness problem to become more just over time. They are self-improving, self-regulating systems. Examples of movements of non-violent resistance (e.g., Gandhi and King) illustrate the process. The chapter concludes with a complete list of the basic human rights.

Keywords:   James Buchanan, democratic rights, fairness, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, independent judiciary, invisible hand explanation, nonviolent resistance, political rights, rational self-interest, self-regulating mechanism, Amartya Sen, ultimatum game

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