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Rights: Natural, Human, Legal

‘Rights’ are associated with individuals. A right is not only an authority to act that an individual has but an authority all individuals have in the same situation, or individuals in a specific legal system have.

The doctrine that all men possessed ‘natural’ rights appeared in the seventeenth century as part of the debate on the limitations on the power of the British Crown. Hobbes and Locke also took part in that debate. In the eighteenth century the potential of these ideas was realized in the American and French revolutions. Such ideas were associated with deism – a rational reformulation of Christian ideas – which stressed that the Creator gave not only natural laws which governed the motions of the planets and all other natural objects, but also moral laws governing human relationships. Man had been given the power to discover all these laws by reason. The American Declaration of Independence proclaimed inalienable and God-given rights to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These were elaborated in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The concept of human rights as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) developed the idea of good of individuals to the good of race or nation. Such natural, human or universal rights that are largely a moral claim for equal and just treatment should be distinguished from legal rights that are enforced in the courts of a specific legal system. These can be subdivided into the rights given by legislation and rights that are guaranteed by a constitution.


1 Give Ukrainian equivalents for the following words and expressions.

Limitation, deism, reason, inalienable.


2 Translate words and word combinations from Ukrainian into English and use them in your own sentences.

Особа, проголошувати, правова система.

3 Complete the sentences.

1. A right is not only ...

2. Such natural ...

3. Man had been given ...

4. The American Declaration ...

5. ‘Rights’ are ...


4 Comprehension questions.

1. What are rights?

2. How were rights seen in the 18th century?

3. What rights are proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence?

4. What concept of human rights is expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights?


5 Say if the following statements are true according to the text.

1. A right is a person’s right to act.

2. Rights do not include authority.

3. The concept of ‘natural’ rights appeared in the seventeenth century.

4. Inalienable rights include the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

5. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights developed the idea of natural, human or universal rights.



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