How Law Can Figure Both As an Outcome and as a Reason


Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It also refers to people who work in this system, such as police officers and prosecutors.

Normatively, many have thought of legal rights as reflecting natural moral rights–rights that are not dependent on enforcement or social convention; a view rooted in the natural law tradition. However, some legal rights are not natural at all, namely those derived from other rights or from sources of law (MacCormick 1977: 189 & 206; Sumner 1987: 68-70; Raz 1994: 263-268).

A Right Can Figure Both As an Outcome and as a Reason

Although it is tempting to assume that Hohfeldian relations can be preemptory, this is not necessarily the case. Rather, certain rights, such as claim-rights, privilege-rights, and power-rights, can be “intermediate conclusions” of legal reasoning.

One such example is the right to life, liberty, and property. Such rights are frequently conditioned on conflicting values, requiring some measure of limitations to their application.

In some cases, a rights-based limitation may shackle the coercive and punitive branches of government. At the same time, however, such restrictions often serve to promote public safety, justice, and the common good (Finnis 2011: 210-213).

Similarly, some rights are group rights, primarily furthering the interests of the groups in which they exist (Raz 1986: 209-212). These rights, however, are not always aligned with the common good, and can at times resist harmonizing with the ethical framework through adjustment in scope.