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Natural rights and liberty: A critical examination of some late eighteenth-century debates in English political thought

Molivas, Grigorios I; (1993) Natural rights and liberty: A critical examination of some late eighteenth-century debates in English political thought. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The purpose of the thesis is to explore the conception of natural rights and liberty in late eighteenth-century English political thought. It is argued that the conception of natural rights, or rights of man as they have been conventionally called, is a mixture of heterogenous and often contradictory theoretical assumptions. It is shown that the language of natural rights on the one hand, was increasingly dominated by utilitarian ideas, and on the other, was associated with a conception of moral agency — derived from treatises on morals and metaphysics — which rendered the rhetoric of natural rights especially appealing for purposes of reform. An attempt is made to illuminate in detail the way in which the right of private judgment was transferred from religion to politics. In distinguishing between the formation of thought, its expression, and acting in accordance with it, it is contended that the affinity between the arguments in defence of religious and political liberty lies in their common ground, that is, as rights concerning the expression of opinion. The exercise of such a right by all was deemed equally compatible and even conducive to the formation of the public interest. Although terms such as 'rights' and 'liberty' were often used synonymously, an attack on natural rights involved an analytical distinction between liberty and a right. The study investigates conceptual problems involved in attempts to define liberty in relation to law. It further discusses the tendency, common in many eighteenth-century writers, to confound liberty with other concepts such as utility, obedience, or wisdom. The primary sources used consist of a considerable number of pamphlets which have previously received little attention.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Natural rights and liberty: A critical examination of some late eighteenth-century debates in English political thought
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Social sciences; Eighteenth-century; England; Liberty; Natural rights; Political thought
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10101063
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