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The recovery of natural law for the sociology of human rights

Leahy, A. (2016) The recovery of natural law for the sociology of human rights. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis argues that the sociology of human rights is more restricted in its treatment of natural law than it should be. In building this argument the thesis explores the different ways in which the subdiscipline is restricted and demonstrates how a different approach to natural law can make it stronger. It notes the enduring influence of the traditional sociological dismissal of natural law, an approach to natural law thought that relies on a reactive reading of natural law as doctrine. This traditional approach grounds both the dismissal of the notion of human rights in broader sociology and the continued rejection of natural law and natural rights thought within the sociology of human rights. The thesis takes a descriptive approach to natural law, treating natural law as theory rather than doctrine. It explores concepts within the early modern natural law theories of Grotius, Hobbes and Pufendorf that challenge a number of traditional sociological assumptions about natural law that are echoed within the subdiscipline. The thesis also points to ways in which major ideas in these early modern natural law theories are relevant to key themes and issues that have emerged within the sociology of human rights, including the distinction between foundationalist and constructionist approaches to human rights, the distinction between description and advocacy of human rights, the treatment of the role of the state in securing human rights, and the social import of human rights. It argues that as early examples of rights thought in which great importance is placed on the social conditions of the rights bearer, and in which connections are made between the achievement of society and the protection of individual rights, the natural law theories recovered in this thesis have much to offer the sociology of human rights.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Wickham, Gary and Evers, Barbara
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