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Rights from Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights Paperback – December 13, 2005

2.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These rights are as cherished today as when Thomas Jefferson enumerated them 231 years ago, but traditional faith isn't doing as well (witness Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens). If God goes, do our rights go with him? Not according to Alan Dershowitz, who in Rights from Wrongs proposes the theory that they come not from God (theists have no monopoly on moral behavior), nature (whose first rule is selfishness), or the law itself (Dershowitz is no fan of legal positivism). Rather, he argues that, in a sense, two wrongs do make a right: that our rights are built from the ground up, in the manner of the common law: we "agree upon the least desirable ways of life and seek to protect against those evils." Dershowitz is likely to lose some readers, especially those who trend toward the right, in the book's second half, where he begins to apply his theory to issues including organ donation, separation of church and state, animal rights, and immigration. Regardless, Rights from Wrongs is a fine companion piece to the "atheist trilogy": well-argued, thought-provoking, and likely to appeal to those interested in politics and philosophy as well as religion and law. --Benjamin Lukoff


"Persistently thoughtful.... A crash course in legal theory that's cheaper and faster than law school. And more intriguingly lucid." -- Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465017142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465017140
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,507,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights by Alan M. Dershowitz
"Rights From Wrongs" is a very interesting book on the source of our rights from a welcomed secular point of view. Preeminent legal scholar and renowned criminal lawyer, Alan M. Dershowitz provides the readers with a lucid, engaging account on the secular origin of rights. Despite being broken out into three parts this book is really about two: the first half focuses on the origins of rights while the second half is the application of said theory of rights to specific controversies. This enlightening 274-page book is composed of twenty chapters and is broken out in the following three parts: I. The Sources of Rights, II. Some Challenges to Experience as the Source of Rights, and III. Applying the Experiential Theory of Rights to Specific Controversies.

1. A well-written, well-researched book that is accessible to the masses.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of a preeminent legal mind.
3. A welcomed and more compelling secular point of view. Engaging, coherent, well reasoned book.
4. This book addresses to satisfaction the question, "Where do rights come from?"
5. A direct challenge to the approach to rights taken by both classical natural law and legal positivism. Throughout the book, Dershowitz states a who's who behind the classical approaches and provides a fair treatment of their perspectives. He also proposes a third approach, one based on human experiences.
6. Thought-provoking book. The author weaves a fine web of legal brain teasers.
7. The implications of rights being a product solely of human invention. A recurring theme, human experiences as the source of rights.
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Dershowitz has a secular theory of how our ideas of human rights evolved over time. He rejects the idea that "rights" can be derived from natural law, divine law, logic, or even human jurisprudence. He posits that "human rights" come from experience with "human wrongs," those events that we all agree have gone very badly. In other words, human rights evolved as sort of a trial-and-error golden rule: stop doing unto others what we really wouldn't want to be done unto us. He calls this approach "working from the bottom up, from a dystopian view of our experiences with injustice..."

The first half of the book deals primarily with where our rights come from. (from experience, he argues) The second half of the book switches gears to contemporary issues and controversies. Here he offers no answers, but rather argues that the answers will change depending on how the argument is framed. There are points at which the author comes across as arrogant, but hey, he's a lawyer. The arguments are compelling and well-crafted, and most readers will find that they agree with some points and disagree with others.

Overall, this book is well-written and at times it is even engaging. If you have any interest in legal, political, or ethical theory, this book is worth reading. If you are a Social Darwinist or an Ethicist of any religious stripe, you may be interested in learning about how "the other guy" thinks.
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By D V on October 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book is like 'stepping into an elevator with a suicide bomber'. Alan Dershowitz is a second-rate scholar and a third-rate mind. It is remarkable that his inane liberal prejudice, which masquerades as legal thought and into which he has perversely yet obviously sublimated his secular Jewish identity, has been able to secure him the accolades of his peers and the vaunted status of Harvard emeritus. I picked up this book wondering whether a man of Dershowitz's reputation would suceed in establishing a secular basis for rights (a daunting task). Needless to say, he does not. Dershowitz merely shifts the problem of the essence of 'rights' to the recognition of 'wrongs' so as to avoid the implication of God. Rights emerge from a desire to avoid wrongs, says Dershowitz. The author does not, however, ever really explain how 'wrongs' are recognized by men in the first place; yet this capacity for a priori moral recognition is the lynchpin of his entire argument. A bad parlour trick. Laughable. Jejune. Smug. Narcissistic. Neurotic. Self-absorbed. Hysterical.
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