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The Limits of Ethics in International RelationsNatural Law, Natural Rights, and Human Rights in Transition$
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David Boucher

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199203529

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199203529.001.0001

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Natural Rights: Descriptive and Prescriptive

Natural Rights: Descriptive and Prescriptive

(p.141) 5 Natural Rights: Descriptive and Prescriptive
The Limits of Ethics in International Relations


Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses the need to distinguish the descriptive and prescriptive traditions of natural rights. It contends that if either of the above has a claim to secularizing subjective rights, it is the former. Evidence shows that discussion of human rights issues can be resolved into the question of what is their source, but this is often avoided or left deliberately ambiguous. It suggests that positive rights and obligations are subject to agreement and that natural rights power or rights, as in Thomas Hobbes' state of nature and David Gauthier's original position, may not be considered moral constraints because moral constraints are only introduced to mitigate the effects of natural rights.

Keywords:   natural rights, human rights, moral constraints, subjective rights, Thomas Hobbes, David Gauthier

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