Natural Rights Theory

Posted: October 17th, 2013

Natural Rights Theory







Natural Rights Theory

Natural rights theory is the belief that a person enters into this world with some basic rights that cannot be denied by any government, political power or even a constitution. Natural rights theory maintains that since individuals come into this world naturally, they have basic rights that no one can take away from them. The theory suggests that human beings as natural creatures should live and organize themselves in the society using basic rules that are laid down by nature. As natural beings, human have rights that not anyone can violate, with the main right being freedom. Further, the theory suggests that the rights are derived from the nature of man as a rational being, where the rights are necessary for his survival. In general, the theory states that man has rights granted or guaranteed upon their creation irrespective of any government manipulation, and exists across all nations, or are universal. These rights are considered to be above any law made by the government (Donald, n.d.)

Natural rights are the freedoms that are established by an international agreement that imposes conduct on across all nations. The natural rights are very distinct from legal rights, which are the freedoms established in particular states and applies to that particular state. They are rights that all human beings have and are not limited by any artificial legal set-up, and not only apply to human beings, but other species. For instance, sea animals live under water by natural right and not from legal legislation dictating the same. Therefore, natural rights are those rights that cannot be change by any artificial legal legislation. Some examples of natural rights are the rights to life, ownership of property and freedom or liberty. Natural rights prevent people from certain practices such as torture and slavery, allowing them to defend their lives, liberty and property (Donald, n.d.).

Natural rights theory closely relates to natural law theory. In the enlightenment age, the natural rights theory served to challenge the rights of kings and leaders, which created a justification of establishing a positive law, social contract and a government, which amounted to the legal rights. Thus, legal rights are derived from the natural rights, which also serve to challenge the legal rights when they go overboard. The legal rights were established with an aim of protecting the freedom of people, their property, and rights to live their lives as each person capable of reasoning wished to live. The natural rights theory states that all men are equal, and have the freedom to make their choices. Some of the theorists in support of the theory have stated that this is defined by the moral rights each person has, which come naturally from their free will and thoughts, enabling them to make their own choices (Donald, n.d.).

The theory further suggests that human beings are capable of acting rationally and have the right to make their choices. this is to mean that anybody as long as they are adults capable of making choices have the right to do what pleases them without anybody restricting them. In addition, this would mean that everybody has a right to the particular right, and nobody would deny him or her the chance to exercise it. In addition, the theory suggests that people should act naturally, where people derive their morality. The theory suggests that morality is enshrined in the inherent nature of man, where he acts as nature in him dictates, the same way animals will act according to the nature driving them.

Problems of Natural Rights Theory

            The natural rights theory like any other has several problems with many of its opponents criticizing it and do not regard it as correct. One of the problems with the natural rights law is different interpretations of nature, which is different across many regions and among different individuals. Thus, the notion from natural rights theory stating that natural rights are universal would not be true since people will have different interpretations of nature. Therefore, defining what is morally right would be difficult, making the natural tights theory quite problematic to understand. More so, human beings are very diverse, with capability of each having their own natural personalities. For instance, some people are generally aggressive and fearless while others are naturally timid. Since human nature allows them to have both, it would be morally right for an aggressive man to attack the timid one since they will be following their inherent natural personality and reasoning (Sullivan & Pecorino, 2002).

In addition, determining morality is hard due to such differences, where each individual will have his or her own reasoning on what is morally right or wrong. Natural rights theory suggests that acting in accordance with nature is morally right, while behavior not according to nature is morally wrong. For instance, when a man rapes a woman, there is nothing unnatural about it biologically. Therefore, this would not be considered an unnatural behavior, qualifying it as a moral right. This would be because the natural rights theory suggests that it is morally right for organisms to act in accordance to nature. Under such a notion, men considered aggressive would have a right to follow their natural desires and go ahead with raping women since it is natural for a man to desire a woman. This raises the question of whether men should act in accordance to their natural instincts or whether they should resist some of their inherent nature.

Considering the above problems, the critics of the natural rights theory argue that even children are not innocent, and acting from their inherent natural personality, some will be aggressive on others while others will misbehave. Thus, the children go to school in order to learn how to tame some of their natural behaviors, meaning that natural does not always define morality since this would not be moral. In addition, critics of the natural theory suggest that in accordance with the natural right, people who commit some acts such as homosexuality, assault, killing among others would not be acting unnaturally; therefore, their behaviors would be regarded as morally right according to the natural rights theory (Sullivan & Pecorino, 2002).

Another problem is that the intrinsic nature of human beings that is concerned with establishing laws is not the same as the animals, which causes another difficulty with the theory. Natural law means following the inherent natural values where animals act as their inherent nature dictates. For instance, it is natural for a lion to kill a gazelle for food, and other animals, or for a cat to chase after rats and mice. On the other hand, man does not follow his inherent nature to the letter. For instance, it is known that man is selfish and always wants to have maximum benefits from anything, without considering others. This is not considered morally right according to the moral teachings, which means that moral teachings do not teach us to follow the natural values in us as dictated by nature like animals.

Another problem of the natural rights theory is that majority of the suggested rights do not have  prove, where it believes that natural rights comes from God after creating man. There is no way to prove that the natural rights are given by God. In addition, different people have different religions, meaning that the suggested rights cannot be universal as the theory suggest. This creates yet another problem for the theory, causing a lot of criticism from its opponents (Sullivan & Pecorino, 2002).

Bentham Rejection of Natural Rights

Bentham is one of the major opponents of the natural rights theory, and rejects it completely, dismissing it as nonsense with the rights suggested not qualifying as rights. Bentham rejects the natural rights theory completely, and takes on the utilitarian moral view that considers the action with the best results for everybody. He suggests that human nature just as if science can choose the actions with the best value and benefit for people involved, with the main motive being pleasure and pain. He suggests that nature puts man under two aspects, pain and pleasure, where pleasure is the most desired people. Therefore, it is up to the people to determine what is to be done in order to realize the best result (Robnights, 2012). He attacks natural rights and suggests that rights are only created by the law. He further suggested that laws are just a command of the tow sovereigns, pleasure and pain. A government has to be present in order to have laws and rights within a community or state. Rights in his view are suggested to be in correlation to the duties that are determined by the law. The notion of having rights that are based on natural rights or those pre-existing an established government are considered wrong and rejected (, 2008). He attacks the natural law on his understanding of legal rights, and nature of the law.

According to (2008), “the term natural right is a perversion of language. It is ambiguous, sentimental, and figurative and had anarchical consequences. Bentham suggested that natural right becomes ambiguous on the grounds that it makes a suggestion of general rights without any specifications to any object, and anyone could claim what has already been chosen by another. Therefore, exercising such a universally accepted right would mean eliminating the right itself, since what becomes a right to every man is not a right to any man at all. More so, he suggested that under such a circumstance of broadly and ambiguously implied rights, there could not be a legal system.

His other attack on the natural rights theory is that natural rights is figurative, he suggests that there are no rights that are in front of the government. He says that the assumption that such rights exist seems to come from a theory of social contract where individuals form a society to choose a government by alienating certain of their rights. In addition, such a doctrine not only poses as unhistorical, but also fails to serve as a useful tool in explaining of origin of political authority. Further, he suggests that governments are risen form habit or through force, whereby, for contacts to be legally binding a government has to be in place in order to enforce the contracts.

He goes further to suggest that natural rights theory is anarchical. He claims that such a right involves freedom from all moderation and particularly, from all legal control. Therefore, the natural right being in front of the law, this could only mean it cannot be limited by any law. With everybody having such freedom, the consequence would be pure anarchy considering human beings are aggravated by their own self-interests. Thus, having a right in a meaningful way requires that no one can justifiably interfere with another person’s right. This is to imply that a right must have the capability of being enforced, and such restrictions are the provision of the law.

He concludes, “That the term natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,—nonsense upon stilts,” (, 2008). According to Bentham, all rights are supposed to be legal and enforceable. Any right that is a right to every man does not qualify as a right since anybody can make a legitimate claim to it, meaning it is above other laws. According to him, rights are legal and enforced by government, and no right can be anterior to the government. He also suggests that all rights are supposed to be legal and specific, having an object as well as a subject, and cannot universal. He suggests that they are supposed to be made because they are deemed conducive or beneficial to the people. In addition, when their abolition would mean a benefit to the community governed by the rights, there should be nothing to stop their abolition. Thus, rights are supposed to be based on the two sovereigns as he suggested, pleasure and pain with regard being given to the former. Thus, rights should only be made for the pleasure or benefit to the majority. Moreover, he claims that rights are supposed to exist under the law, with protection and enforcement by the government. Otherwise, rights outside or above the law are not rights, except reasons of wishing they were there. This rejection of natural rights has continued to gain influence across man countries and scholars, believing there are no natural rights as the theory of natural rights suggests. Bentham rejects the entire theory on natural rights on grounds of legal rights, suggesting that there cannot be one universally accepted right, and al rights have to be enforceable and specific, of which natural rights are not.

Personal Opinion on Bentham Rejection of Natural Rights Theory

On the rejection of the natural rights theory, I do agree to some extent with Bentham, although not completely. This is due to the problems posed with the natural theory that are hard to explain. In addition, the natural rights sound a little more ambiguous and unclear. For instance, the natural rights theory suggests that human beings should act according to their inherent natural personalities. Considering everybody has his or her own personality and free will, there would be chaos allowing everybody to act according to their natural traits. For instance, as mentioned earlier, those who are naturally violent will cause violence. This would be justifiable in the natural rights theory since they acted according to their traits, which comes naturally. In addition, due to diversity of the human brain unlike other animals whose inherent traits are not diversified as those of human beings. For instance, all the lions have their inherent nature as hunting to survive. On the other hand, human beings have diversified natural intrinsic values that they peruse, and with rights that allow every body to pursue their interests would mean having chaos since conflicts would be so many. Thus, having a legal law that governs or draws the line where no body is allowed to go overboard ensures there is order.

However, on the issue that no right can be above the law, I do not agree with Bentham considering everybody has a right to life no matter what the government would say. Therefore, I do not agree with Bentham on rejecting the entire natural rights theory. The government has no right over a person’s life, and this is not enforceable legally considering life is natural and cannot be given by the government. The only thing that government can ensure is protecting of life to ensure that no body has a right to take a right to take away life. Therefore, I do agree with Bentham that rights should be made by the government, with the best interest of the community, and should be specific, and enforceable in order to maintain order that would otherwise be lost if people were given a right to act on their inherent perception.




Donald, J.A. (n,d.). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Retrieved from

Sullivan, S.O. & Pecorino, P.A. (2002). Problems for Natural Law Theory. Retrieved from (2008). Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832). Retrieved from

Robnights. (2012). Defining Utilitarianism. Retrieved from

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