Jeremy Bentham's Critique Of Natural Rights

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Jeremy Bentham’s publications and works such as Anarchical Fallacies contain what has been claimed to be one of the most influential critiques of natural rights, and thus human rights, ever published (Schofield, 2003, p. 2). This critique of natural rights is a theme which is present throughout Bentham’s writing, from beginning to end. Bentham’s reference to natural rights as “nonsense on stilts” is directly referring to his rejection of the notion of natural rights, and whilst some argue for the existence of natural rights, it seems that rights are generally agreed to be a social construct. For Bentham and other political thinkers natural rights do not exist because they are unfounded, and are equally unenforceable. Similarly, whilst Bentham …show more content…
One of the principal reasons he believed that this popular manifesto and the natural rights that it enshrined were nonsense is because these rights are unfounded, and it can be argued that they do not exist in a tangible sense. As summarised by Peonidis, Bentham is arguing that there can be “no justice, specific rights or certain legal provisions without a pre-existing legislative authority” in order to “establish and maintain” these rights (Peonidis, 2011, p. 447). Therefore, Bentham is essentially claiming that there is no such concept as natural rights in civil society and that the notion of rights only exists in reference to legal rights; those rights which have been enshrined in law by a governmental authority. As identified by Schofield, Bentham claims that “there are no such things as natural rights” or those that exist “anterior to the establishment of government”; therefore reiterating that the concept of rights can only be applied to positive legal rights (2003, p. 15). Essentially, Bentham believes that none of these (natural) rights exists in a state of nature because in such a state, nobody has any rights as people have the right to everything. Thus, no one has certain guaranteed rights that are secure. In his critique, Bentham argues that …show more content…
Natural rights, which according to Bentham are “nonsense on stilts” are non-existent and impossible to enforce without a government enacting law protecting them, which is still evident in modern day society with human rights. Whilst Kant and Hobbes support natural rights, there is no conclusive existence supporting their existence, rendering it difficult to view rights as anything other than a social convention. Indeed, political philosophers may continue to hypothesise as to whether or not man had natural rights in a state of nature, but it seems that these rights today are irrelevant as even the extension of them – human rights - are still unenforceable without action from government. Perhaps Bentham whilst he was critical in labelling natural rights as nonsense, was simply being logical and it seems he was correct in his assessment of these

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