41 Pages Posted: 22 May 2010 Last revised: 20 May 2018
Date Written: February 4, 2009
In a celebrated article, published nearly a century ago, Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld endeavored to elucidate the various types of jural relations. Hohfeld’s scheme has been justly regarded as a seminal contribution to analytical jurisprudence, and has stimulated lively debate since. This Essay aims to refute one of Hohfeld’s fundamental and most influential theses: the axiom of right-duty correlativity. To do so, it employs the simplest refutation strategy in first-order logic, namely providing a valid counter-example.
Part I discusses earlier attempts to do likewise, and explains why they failed. For the most part, previous illustrations of ostensibly standalone rights or standalone duties neglected relevant parties who could owe the correlative duties or hold the correlative rights, respectively. Part II puts forward a simple argument: There are abstract duties in private law that ban certain types of conduct without reference to specific victims. Those duties are not necessarily correlative with rights, although their breach may generate secondary duties with corresponding rights. In particular, tort law allows plaintiffs to recover for harm caused by breach of duty that occurred before they acquired legal personality. This is tantamount to recognizing duties that are not correlative with rights, and therefore invalidates the correlativity axiom.
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