Whose Rights? A Critique of Individual Agency as the Basis of Rights

Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Forthcoming

52 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2009

See all articles by E. Glen Weyl

E. Glen Weyl

Plural Technology Collaboratory, Microsoft Research Special Projects; Plurality Institute; GETTING-Plurality Research Network

Date Written: November 1, 2009


I argue that individuals may be as problematic political agents as groups. In doing so, I draw on theory from economics, philosophy and computer science and evidence from psychology, neuroscience and biology. If successful this argument undermines agency-based justifications for embracing strong notions of individual rights while rejecting the possibility of similar rights for groups. For concreteness, I critique these mistaken views by rebutting arguments given by Chandran Kukathas in his essay "Are There Any Cultural Rights?" that groups lack the temporal coherence, political independence and indivisibility of individuals. I also show how formal critiques of group agency from social science (in particular, Arrow's Impossibility Theorem) can be applied as reasonably to individuals as groups. Because these symmetries between groups and individuals undermine common implicit assumptions in political philosophy, I argue that they may have broader implications for liberal political theory, as they emphasize the importance of intra-personal justice.

Keywords: moral individualism, group rights, social choice theory, liberal-communitarian debate, behavioral economics

JEL Classification: D71

Suggested Citation

Weyl, Eric Glen, Whose Rights? A Critique of Individual Agency as the Basis of Rights (November 1, 2009). Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1324314

Eric Glen Weyl (Contact Author)

Plural Technology Collaboratory, Microsoft Research Special Projects ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.glenweyl.com

Plurality Institute ( email )

GETTING-Plurality Research Network ( email )

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