The Biological Basis of Law

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A theory of universal human rights

  Boston University's Public Interest Law Journal published the first two parts of The Biological Basis of Human Rights, presented at the Society for Evolutionary Analysis in Law. Conference logo at right. Conference sign  

Part One: The Biological Basis of Human Rights

Birthday cakes are simply conventional--some societies have them and some don't. But there is nothing conventional about the fats and carbohydrates that they are made of. They are universal, their consumption bringing pleasure to people whether they consume them in the form of birthday cakes or baklava.

So too with law. The rules of law vary from country to country, but the principles underlying them do not. An unprovoked attack, for example, is always and everywhere wrong. Law is an emergent feature of human biology itself. This article traces the causal chain from human biology to consciousness to the emergence of duties to their enforcement in law.

Part Two: Of Humans and Squirrels: The Origin of Rights and Duties

Humans, squirrels, and all other vertebrates are self-regarding--they pursue their own ends. But somehow all of them act as if they were other-regarding as well, as if they were acting out of a concern for the well-being of those around them. But why would this be so? The law takes it as given that each person, whatever their social or biological endowment, acts with regard for others. How could that be a reasonable assumption for law to make? What is it about human beings that makes them at once self-regarding and other-regarding? Whatever it is, that is the origin of rights and duties.



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