Announcing the 1st Annual
Wheatley Summer Seminar on Civic Virtue:

The Nature & Origin of Rights

Saturday, July 8, 2017 | The BYU Barlow Center
2520 L Street NW Washington, D. C

Sponsored by The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University under the direction of Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Wheatley Senior Fellow:

Professor Robinson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University, and, for more than a quarter of a century, an Associate Member of the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University and Adjunct Fellow of Linacre College.

About the Seminar:

One searches the general terrain and even the small corners of philosophy and intellectual history without uncovering a systematic account of the ontology of rights, their source and the defining features of those beings allegedly bearing them. Thus, Hohfeldian approaches classify but never analyze the items thus classified. If I have, say, a "claims right", how is this distinct from my having, say, a "claim"? Clearly, the concept of a "claim" includes the notion of a right. Thus does the Hohfeldian scheme yield a set of merely analytic propositions in the Kantian sense.

Locke speaks of life, liberty and property, and Hutcheson contrasts the unalienable with the alienable, but politics rides roughshod over such niceties, often in the name of allegedly more fundamental rights. When occasionally approached in a sober fashion, we discover from a number of celebrated figures that some rights are "natural" -- but here again, the distinction is between the natural and the...what?

Formidable arguments that take rationality to be the bedrock, thereby assigning infants, children and puppies to a rights-deprived limbo. And then there is the collision course on which the alleged universality of rights meets head-on the alleged rights of cultures and sub-cultures to violate what is presumed to be inviolable. Added to this are comparably vexing precepts that somehow impose on others some sort of "obligation" owed to someone else's "right". What grounds this obligation? (Sentiment? Rationality? Utility? Coercion?)

So, what we have is a mess, but one on which entire political and legal philosophies depend. Imagine the lawyer declaring before a judge that the defendant has a right to equal treatment, the judge nodding and asking, "Counsel, what do you mean by a right as distinct from a constitutionally conveyed privilege?" Ah, what a quiet courtroom...


Seminar participants will be selected by application (see below). Participation includes a stipend of $1,000 to compensate for time and expenses. The Seminar will include a light breakfast, a morning lecture/discussion session, lunch, and an afternoon lecture/discussion session.

Seminar Readings:

Application Instructions for Wheatley Summer Seminar | July 8, 2017

1. Please provide the following information:
- Name
- Current Address
- Telephone
- Email Address
- Educational/Professional Plans
- Educational History
- College/University
- Degree
- Year Earned
- Major or Specialization

2. On a separate sheet, please provide in no more than 1-page a statement of your interest in this Wheatley Summer Seminar.
Send your application and statement of interest to:

Emily M. Reynolds
Assistant Director
The Wheatley Institution

Applications must be received by June 1, 2017. Notifications will be sent by June 15, 2017

Contact Us

The Wheatley Institution
Brigham Young University
392 Hinckley Center
Provo, UT 84602

Main: (801) 422-5883
Fax: (801) 422-0017

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