An Introduction to Rights by William A Edmundson

Cyriac Tom, IInd Year, LLM, School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Cochin.  

The idea of rights is of great importance to the modern society. Especially since, the modern world has become much smaller owing to technological advancements. This has led to an explosion of communication between people and this exchange of ideas has resulted in the claim for rights throughout the world. Many new rights are being formed which were not in existence before and many States have introduced new rights to the people. The question as to the nature of rights and its scope becomes all the more important. Thus it is imperative to have a definite idea as to the study of rights. Further, to a student of law, the philosophical aspect is one of the most important subjects in law. For providing a clear vision to those around him it’s imperative he has clarity over the subject. One of the difficulties that a student faces is the enormous literature regarding the study of rights. Some of these literatures do not provide a clear picture, while others are too complex for a beginner.

William A Edmundson’s book titled “An Introduction to Rights”, published by Cambridge University Press, provides one of the best initial perspectives towards the study of rights. The book is a part of a series published by Cambridge as an introduction towards law and philosophy. The second edition has been published in 2012.

One of the initial attractions to the book is that it starts with the basic set of question that begets a beginner of philosophy. The author ponders over the aspects as to right as a Western Invention and the presence of societies devoid of rights. Thus the study of rights correctly begins with a set of questions as to How, What and Where. It should be stated here that Edmundson did not refrain from just exposition of various juristic perspectives but rather provided his own perspective to the front. His comparison of religious tolerance and rights is one of such instances which make the reader think further.

Throughout the Book, Edmundson does two separate analyses to the concept of right, vertical and horizontal. On a Vertical plane, he divides the period of rights into two, The First Expansionary Era and The Second Expansionary Era. The First Expansionary Era more or less starts with growth of State power to that of Church and ends with the American and French revolution. The Second Expansionary Era starts with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Era has not ended till now. On a Horizontal Plane, the book starts with a historical perspective as to rights. The author deals with various theorists according to each Era and the evolution of rights with the passage of time.

Edmundson deals with different jurists, he starts of his exploration with Grotius. According to Edmundson, Grotius never saw rights as limits on the Sovereign, although his grounds of rights were in Natural Law. The book then deals with authors of the first expansionary era such as Hobbes, Edmund Burke etc. In the second expansionary era the author confronts the relationship between rights and justice, in light of Rawls Theory.

As stated earlier, apart from providing an explanation the author also brings his perspective to the table. Although it should be stated that, the reader may not agree with the entire supposition of the author, it does certainly help the reader in having an inquisitive read. One of such instance is the Edmundson insistence about moral rights and recognition. One of the drawbacks of the book is the fact that the author does not take some of the debates further. Thus it may be shown as one of the drawbacks of the book that the author rightly evokes interest but fails to answer in some areas of the book. For example with regard to slavery the author gives the different perception of the Dominican and the Franciscan churches. Although the debate goes further it fails to provide the reader an exposition of the final perspective. But then again for a study aimed primarily to undergraduate students, a further inquisition would have made it slow to digest.

The author also discusses, another interesting aspect, the nature of legal rights with the interest and choice theory. According to interest theory, the use of a right is to promote the interests of the holder, while the choice theory proposes that the use of a right is to provide a choice to the holder. Edmundson has thus provided a compilation of various perspectives of rights, on one part he discusses the different stages of right from the Grotius and Burke and Hohfeld and on another the different aspects of right and finally ending with the future of rights.

It would have been better, if the author had provided an answer to all his presented at the beginning of the book. He fails at various stages in providing an answer, but then again this book is a must read for a beginner. The clarity and the command, of the author, over the subject are clearly visible. Any undergraduate or post graduate student should not miss this book; it should also be made a part of the curriculum. The central argument against the book, if I may summarise, is the fact that it leaves me with the burden for a further study. As such the book is titled well, it is only an introduction.

 Title – An Introduction to rights

Author – William A Edmundson

Publisher – Cambridge University Press (Introduction to Law and Philosophy Series)

Edition – 2nd Edn, 2012 Rev ed

ISBN-13 9781107648197

ISBN-10 110764819X

Binding – Paperback

Number of Pages – 184 Pages

Price – Rs. 2093/-