Selected Topics in Jurisprudence: Rights, Rightholders, and Consequences
Prof. Edmundson; Fall 2000
Mondays; 6-7:40 pm; room 405The language of rights has come to dominate contemporary moral, political, and legal discourse. Most of the significant moral and legal controversies of our age turn upon the issue whether or not to ascribe a right of a certain description to one or another class of persons (or creature!). One task that faces any the theory of rights is that of explaining who has rights, and in virtue of what do they have them. Another task is to explain the force of rights. Rights serve to privilege the interests of the rightholder over competing considerations of the greater good. Does this mean that rights must be respected whatever the consequences? Or is there some way to circumscribe rights that does not reduce them to mere inputs into a calculation of the overall good, in which they may too easily be outweighed?
Participants in this seminar will be working together toward a general account of rights--what precisely they are, how they are related to other notions such as duties and permissions, how they arise, what they count for as against other moral and practical reasons, who may hold them, and why. We will read recent work in rights theory, some of it somewhat technical. Each participant will be responsible for leading at least one class discussion, and a final paper of 12-20 pages will be required. An undergraduate background in philosophy or political theory would be advantageous, but is not a prerequisite. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
ReadingsPeter Unger, Living High and Letting Die (Oxford, 1996)
Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (California, 1985)
James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (recommended)
Handouts, including manuscript material
E-mail Discussion ListThere is an e-mail discussion list for the seminar. You are already subscribed, but you may change the e-mail address to which postings are directed by going to:
The WWWeBBB Forum address is:
There, you can view prior discussion threads and compose and post messages as well.
The Grading System ExplainedThere will not be a final examination. Your grade will be based upon class participation and an 12-20 page (typed, double-spaced) paper, on the article you have chosen to present or, with my permission, on another topic. A bibliography is available to help give ideas for possible paper topics. A first draft of the paper will be due in class on Monday, November 20, and the final paper will be due at noon on the last day of the examination period. This course should count toward satisfying the writing requirement for graduation.
Attendance policyRoll will be taken at each class meeting. Two or more unexcused absences will be grounds for the assignment of a failing grade. Please also note that class nonparticipation may influence your final grade. Because absences due to illness or conflicting family, legal, military or business duties are routinely excused, you need not telephone me to ask that such an absence be excused.
Office HoursI have an "open door" policy on meeting outside class. I encourage you to thrust yourselves past the bodyguards at the fourth floor security checkpoint at any time or, if you like, call me to make an appointment. My number is 404-651-2136, and I can be found in office 458, all day, Monday through Friday. E-mail is the most efficient means of communicating with me when I am not available in person: email@example.com .
The schedule is subject to change.