Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable. In contrast, legal rights are those bestowed onto a person by the law of a particular political and legal system, and therefore relative to specific cultures and governments.
Legal rights may be constitutional, statutory, regulatory, contractual, common-law, or conferred by international human rights law. Legal rights are almost always qualified, whether by implication, by the law which created the right itself or by legal rights held by others. A legal right can be enforced in courts of law against another who has infringed the right. The right may be enforced by a court order or injunction prohibiting the other person or persons from infringing a right, by the awarding of money to compensate the holder of the right. If a person's right to liberty is infringed, he or she may bring an action of habeas corpus so that a court can order his or her release. The owner of the copyright in a work may seek monetary compensation against someone who copied the work without permission. A landowner whose land is being used without his or her permission may bring an action for trespass. A worker may sue his or her employer for breach of contract if the employer refuses to pay the employee's wages.
The theory of natural law is closely related to the theory of natural rights. During the Age of Enlightenment, natural law theory challenged the divine right of kings, and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government — and thus legal rights — in the form of classical republicanism. Conversely, the concept of natural rights is used by some anarchists to challenge the legitimacy of all such establishments.
The idea of human rights is also closely related to that of natural rights; some recognize no difference between the two and regard both as labels for the same thing, while others choose to keep the terms separate to eliminate association with some features traditionally associated with natural rights. Natural rights, in particular, are considered beyond the authority of any government or international body to dismiss. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important legal instrument enshrining one conception of natural rights into international soft law. Natural rights were traditionally viewed as exclusively negative rights, whereas human rights also comprise positive rights.
The idea that animals have natural rights is one that has gained the interest of philosophers and legal scholars in the 20th century, Even on a natural rights conception of human rights, the two terms may not be synonymous.
The legal philosophy known as Declarationism seeks to incorporate the natural rights philosophy of the United States Declaration of Independence into the body of American case law on a level with the United States Constitution.
Famous quotes containing the words natural, legal and/or rights:
“The guarantee that our self enjoys an intended relation to the outer world is most, if not all, we ask from religion. God is the self projected onto reality by our natural and necessary optimism. He is the not-me personified.”
—John Updike (b. 1932)
“No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.”
—Joseph Addison (16721719)
“What men value in this world is not rights but privileges.”
—H.L. (Henry Lewis)