The idealist understanding of "natural rights"

Hoping to answer Bob Murphy's puzzlement over my remarks about rights:

"Society is able to justify the possession of powers, or capabilities, by individuals and those it exercises over them because they are a necessary prerequisite to fulfilling 'man's vocation as a moral being'. We understand rights in this way, not because they are natural, but because the individual has the capacity to imagine a good that is common, which is the same for others as for himself, or herself, and is inspired to act on that conception. Rights are what enable our capacities to be realized, and serve to define the moral person. Despite the fact that a person is not born with the rights or powers necessary for fulfilling such a conception of the moral person, and does not possess them outside of society, they... are not arbitrary creations of law or custom. They are natural in a different sense from that required in the natural law and natural rights traditions... David Ritchie understood such rights to be natural only in the sense that they are those 'legal or customary rights we have come to believe most advantageous to recognize'." -- David Boucher and Andrew Vincent, British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 96

(David, by the way, was my PhD advisor.)


  1. No language is natural; language is natural.

  2. The idealist conception of rights sounds a lot like Ayn Rand's wherein rights are something along the lines of what enable life. BTB, what do you think of Rand as a philosopher?