The Construction of Rights

Keith Dowding, Martin van Hees

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This paper examines the sense in which rights can be said to exist. We examine various approaches to the definition and analysis of rights, focusing in particular on the compossibility of rights. Concentrating on three existing approaches to rights-social choice-theoretic, game-theoretic, and Steiner's approach-we suggest that rights are noncompossible in any interesting sense, that is, that the rights people have are nonexistent or vanishingly small. We develop an alternative account of rightswhich we claim is more in tune with moral intuitions-where compossibility is not important and rights cannot form the exclusive basis of morality or a theory of justice. Rights are constructed on the basis of more fundamental moral values. We demonstrate how they are constructed and the sense in which they exist even though they might not always be exercised, while acknowledging that rights that may never be exercised are hardly worth the name.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-293
Number of pages13
JournalThe American Political Science Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


Dive into the research topics of 'The Construction of Rights'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this