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.