The Generality of Rights

Legal Theory, Vol. 6, P. 323, 2000

Posted: 21 Nov 2000

See all articles by Frederick Schauer

Frederick Schauer

University of Virginia School of Law


A long tradition, exemplified by both the American and Scandinavian Realists, has viewed rights in particularistic terms, seeing rights not only as the labels attached to results reached on other grounds, but also seeing legal rights as emerging from particular decisions in particular cases. Yet despite the distinguished provenance of the view that rights are necessarily particular, the view is mistaken. Rights, properly understood, have an essentially rule-like character, and are thus necessarily general encompassing actors and events other than the ones who prevail in particular cases. And once we see that rights are necessarily general, we can appreciate that the generality of rights serves to bind together the otherwise disparate holders of the same right. In this way, rights, precisely because of their generality, often serve culturally important affinity- and community-creating functions.

Suggested Citation

Schauer, Frederick, The Generality of Rights. Legal Theory, Vol. 6, P. 323, 2000, Available at SSRN:

Frederick Schauer (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-6777 (Phone)

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