Dr. Siegfried Van Duffel
(University of Groningen)
Contemporary rights language is in a state of disorder. Proponents of two
sharply opposed accounts of the nature of rights, the 'interest theory'
and the 'will theory', have for decades been unable to agree, even about
the proper aim of a theory of rights. Particularly disturbing about the
debate is that, while it is supposed to be a dispute about theories, the
disagreement has taken the form of a clash between different stipulative
definitions. Both definitions conform to some of our linguistic intuitions
about rights, and since there seems to be no other ground to accept or reject
either of these definitions, the debate has continued endlessly.
Because conflicting intuitions are at stake, we can only hope to resolve
this problem by looking into the historical development of contemporary
rights language. I will suggest that this language has been shaped by two
rival theories of natural rights. These natural rights theories have
conceptualized rights differently and these opposed conceptualizations have
become part of 'our' language of rights. Consequently, proponents of both
definitions were mistaken in thinking that they were discussing the same
phenomenon. The aim of this paper is to elucidate these two conceptualizations.
Siegfried Van Duffel received his Ph.D. from Ghent University Law School, Belgium.
He came to Groningen in 2004 to teach ethics and political theory. He is writing a
book on human rights and cultural differences.