natural rights and natural law

natural rights and natural law

  1. (moral and political philosophy) originally, the doctrine that the principles of right conduct could be discovered by a process of rational enquiry into the nature of Man as God made him. For a political theorist such as John LOCKE, the laws of nature were the commands of God. From natural law, people derive rights to the means which they need in order to perform these duties.
  2. the entitlements advanced as attaching to all human beings simply by virtue of their common humanity. While, in this second sense, natural rights may still be advanced as the foundation of normative theory, they are nowadays usually detached from their original religious basis, although conceptions that these rights are, or should be, ‘self-evident’, and that they provide a standard for all evaluations of political and legal rights, remain a powerful force in political discourse.
The connection between natural law, as the commands of God, and natural rights, was a strong element in the United States Declaration of Independence. Thereafter the language of rights becomes steadily divorced from its natural law setting, and, from the French Revolution onwards, takes off into the realm of the ‘rights of man’. The 20th-century has added an array of economic and social rights to the original ones (see CIVIL RIGHTS. CITIZEN RIGHTS), but it is now relatively uncommon to meet the terms ‘natural rights’ and ‘natural law’ in their original usage, and these have virtually disappeared from everyday political discourse.
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