1 Rights

Self-defense is referred to as a right. Why? What kind of right is it? What is its normative origin? And how is it related to other rights? In this chapter, I shall begin to answer these questions through an enquiry into the logical structure of rights. Such a project will provide a good starting point for the investigation of self-defense for two reasons. First, the notion of a 'right', of which self-defense is thought to be a species, is not immediately transparent. Secondly, from an understanding of the logical structure of rights, we can attempt to identify the structure of defensive rights in their most general form. Such an account has the potential to yield significant rewards.

Hohfeld's building blocks

A pioneer in the theory of rights is the jurist Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld. 1 Though his analysis is developed in the context of legal rights, his framework is, in many respects, relevant to moral rights and will provide a useful starting point for the moral analysis of self-defense. Hohfeld's central contribution was to show that the term 'right' is multiply ambiguous for under that heading trade a number of quite distinct yet related deontic conceptions. Hohfeld believed that these 'jural conceptions' are fundamental in the sense that they are irreducible to more primitive notions. But they could, he thought, be adequately defined through ostension and through identifying their logical relations with one another.

The most intuitive notion with which to commence is that of a duty. A duty is simply an obligation owed by some party to perform or abstain from performing a certain act. However, Hohfeld's treatment of duty differs from the way that term is sometimes used in


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War and Self-Defense


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