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Legal Rights

Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns, Editors
Explores the postmodern challenges to efforts to ground rights outside of history and language


The idea of legal rights today enjoys virtually universal appeal, yet all too often the meaning and significance of rights are poorly understood. The purpose of this volume is to clarify the subject of legal rights by drawing on both historical and philosophical legal scholarship to bridge the gap between these two genres—a gap that has divorced abstract and normative treatments of rights from an understanding of their particular social and cultural contexts.

Legal Rights: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives shows that the meaning and extent of rights has been dramatically expanded in this century, though along with the widespread and flourishing popularity of rights, voices of criticism have increasingly been raised. The authors take up the question of the foundation of rights and explore the postmodern challenges to efforts to ground rights outside of history and language. Drawing rich historical analysis and careful philosophical inquiry into productive dialogue, this book explores the many facets of rights at the end of the twentieth century. In these essays, potentially abstract debates come alive as they are related to the struggles of real people attempting to cope with, and improve, their living conditions. The significance of legal rights is measured not just in terms of philosophical categories or as a collection of histories, but as they are experienced in the lives of men and women seeking to come to terms with rights in contemporary life.

Contributors are Hadley Arkes, William E. Cain, Thomas Haskell, Morton J. Horwitz, Annabel Patterson, Michael J. Perry, Pierre Schlag, and Jeremy Waldron.

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College.

Thomas R. Kearns is William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy, Amherst College.

Praise / Awards

  • "A thoughtful and stimulating contribution to the literature of human rights."
  • ". . . readable and thought-provoking. . . . The editors' focus on historical and philosophical perspectives does offer a different approach to legal rights that is not normally found in mainstream jurisprudential scholarship."
    Law and Politics Book Review

Look Inside

Table of Contents:
  • Very good memories : self-defense and the imagination of legal rights in early modern England / Annabel Patterson
  • Natural law and natural rights / Morton J. Horwitz
  • Lincoln, slavery, and rights / William E. Cain
  • Rights and needs : the myth of disjunction / Jeremy Waldron
  • Justifying the rights of academic freedom in the era of "power/knowledge" / Thomas L. Haskell
  • The new jural mind : rights without grounds, without truths, and without things that are truly rightful / Hadley Arkes
  • Is the idea of human rights ineliminably religious? / Michael J. Perry
  • Rights in the postmodern condition / Pierre Schlag.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Review Law and Politics Book Review | 1/1/1997

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 1997
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08471-5

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  • $36.95 U.S.

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