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Aaron Garrett

Junior Seminar
T 2-4

Rights, Natural Law and their Discontents

Today we take both the division between politics and moral philosophy and the notion of rights for
granted. That we do take both for granted is a legacy of modern natural law theory. This class will
examine how modern notions of rights (natural, inalienable, acquired, external, etc.) were developed as
part of the grand eclectic, synthesizing project of natural law theory, and then how in the eighteenth
century the picture began to splinter due to new putative bearers of rights and new pressures.
The seventeenth century saw the development and profusion of natural law theories organized around the
concept of rights. The first part of the seminar will consider a representative sampling of these theories
and examine both their content and how the theories and the theorists responded to their context, in
particular to philosophical, religious, and territorial conflicts. Authors discussed will (or may) include
Grotius, Pufendorf, Locke and (more problematically) Hobbes. In the second half of the course, we will
look at some eighteenth-century philosophers (primarily British) who attempted: 1) to expand
seventeenth-century natural law theories to accommodate the new political and social situations; 2) to
criticize their philosophical justifications; and in some cases 3) to eradicate them entirely. In this context
we will consider attempts to expand natural law theories to include animal rights, issues of race and
abolition, and women's rights. Authors discussed will include Hutcheson, Hume, Smith, and Bentham.
Finally we will end by considering some of the most powerful critics of standard rights theories in the
wake of the French Revolution: Wollstonecraft’s criticisms of the rights of man as excluding women,
Godwin's attacks on marriage and private property, Benezet’s use of Hutcheson as backing abolition, and
the radical Jacobin John Oswald's call for an animal revolution.
Requirements: One presentation, one prospectus paper (10 pp.), and one term paper (20-25 pp.). The
course is a research seminar. By this I understand that the reading schedule will be flexible as new
interests emerge, and that a presentation of a reading to the seminar will be a component of the course.
The paper/prospectus will be graded as one unit and count for 70% of the grade. The remainder with be
class presentation (10%) and participation.
No texts have been ordered for the course. Instead I will pass out a DVD-ROM with most of the texts
available on it. The remaining texts will be available as handouts or online. Students are encouraged to
order books that they find particularly compelling if they don’t like reading online or they don’t want to
prematurely kill their printers, but it is not required. I will pass out a list of books and publishers at the
first class and suggestions for where to order them.
Nearly all the texts for the course are available at:
Office Hours: T 4-6 (or by appointment), Government 409

E-mail address:

Tim Hochstrasser, Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment (Cambridge: CUP, 2000)
T.J.Hochstrasser and P.Schröder (eds.), Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment: Contexts and
Strategies, (Kluwer: Dordrecht, 2003)
Knud Haakonssen, Natural Law and Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: CUP, 1996)
Richard Tuck, Natural Right Theories (Cambridge: CUP, 1981)
---, Philosophy and Government, 1572-1651 (Cambridge: CUP, 1993)
9/18: Introduction – Before Hohfeld
9/25: The Beginnings of Early Modern Natural Law Theory: Suarez, De Legibus (extract) and
Grotius, De Jure Belli et Pacis
10/2: Enlightened Absolutism and Roles: Hobbes, De Cive (selections), Pufendorf, De Officio and
Cicero, De Offices (selection)
10/9 Cancelled TO BE MADE UP
10/16: "The Westphalian Compromise": Pufendorf, De Officio and selections from On the Law of
Nature and Nations
10/23: English Civil War Radicals: Leveler and Digger pamphlet literature
10/30: The Origins of British Natural Law Theory: Locke, “Essay on Natural Law” and Two Treatises
on Government
11/6: Natural Rights and "particles of liberty": Locke Two Treatises on Government and Gershom
Carmichael “Natural Rights”
11/13 "The Scottish Synthesis" and spectatorial theories of rights: Francis Hutcheson, “Inquiry
concerning Virtue,” extracts from A System of Moral Philosophy and a brief extract from John
Witherspoon’s “Lectures on Moral Philosophy”
11/20 Hume against contract and natural rights: Essays & History of England (selections)
11/27 Humean historical theories of rights: Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Wealth of
Nations and Lectures on Jurisprudence (extracts) and John Millar, Ranks
12/4 Utilitarian criticisms of rights: Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation and Anarchical
Fallacies (selections)
12/11 British French Revolutionary Radicals: Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (extracts)
12/17: Rousseau's animal specter: John Oswald, The Cry of Nature, Rousseau and Kant (handout)
Make-up Class: Rights and Abolition – George Wallace, A System of the Principle of the Law of
Scotland (extract); Anthony Benezet, A Short Account of that Part of Africa, Inhabited by the Negroes;
Granville Sharp, Extract from a Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating