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Protagonist and Subject in Gewirth's Argument for Human Rights

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This article assesses the argument by Alan Gewirth, which is foundational for the Sheffield School of legal idealism, that every agent is rationally committed to asserting that it and all other agents have rights to freedom and well-being. It is shown that the most salient objection to the argument misunderstands its nature. However the initial part of the argument, because of its prudential character, is valid only in virtue of the fact that its ‘protagonist’, the individual for whom the argument is supposed to be rationally compelling, is identical to its ‘subject’, the individual about whom the argument makes its successive statements. This fact prevents the argument from establishing its central claim, as that claim must be interpreted to ground the rest of the argument. Therefore the argument as a whole fails. Some implications of this finding for the Sheffield School approach are suggested

Keywords: Gewirth; Sheffield School; human rights; legal idealism; natural law

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • Until 2007 the King's Law Journal was known as the King's College Law Journal. It was established in 1990 as a legal periodical publishing scholarly and authoritative Articles, Notes and Reports on legal issues of current importance to both academic research and legal practice. It has a national and international readership, and publishes refereed contributions from authors across the United Kingdom, from continental Europe and further afield (particularly Commonwealth countries and USA). The journal includes a Reviews section containing critical notices of recently published books.

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