Alf Ross on the Concept of a Legal Right

Forthcoming in Ratio Juris 2013

42 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2006 Last revised: 20 May 2013

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In this article, I discuss Alf Ross's claim that the concept of a legal right is best understood as a technical tool of presentation, which ties together a disjunction of operative facts and a conjunction of legal consequences, and that rights statements render the content of a number of legal norms in a convenient manner. I argue that while Ross's analysis is appealing, it is problematic in at least four respects. First, it is designed primarily to account for one type of legal right concept only, namely ownership; and although it can be used to account for other types of legal right concepts as well, the practical benefits of doing so will not be anywhere near as impressive as they are in the case of ownership. Second, Ross's attempt to distinguish the concept of a legal right from other concepts that might also be conceived of as connective concepts - by rather loosely characterizing the situations in which we typically say that a person has a legal right - is not successful as it doesn't indicate what is necessarily the case, but only what happens to be the case. Third, Ross's analysis cannot account for the concept of a legal right as it occurs in the legal object language. Fourth, Ross's analysis may in some circumstances give rise to an infinite regress. I also argue, however, that despite these difficulties Ross's analysis deserves our continued attention.

Keywords: Alf Ross, legal rights, connective concepts

Suggested Citation

Spaak, Torben, Alf Ross on the Concept of a Legal Right. Forthcoming in Ratio Juris 2013, Available at SSRN: or

Torben Spaak (Contact Author)

Stockholm University ( email )

S-106 91 Stockholm
46 8 16 45 89 (Phone)
46 8 612 41 09 (Fax)

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