Wednesday, June 28, 2006
One of Wesley Hohfeld's great contributions to legal theory was the observation that words like "rights" and "duties" can have many meanings. To remedy this problem, Hohfeld proposed a series of correlative concepts that would more precisely define legal relationships – claim-rights and duties; privileges and no-rights; powers and liabilities; and immunities and disabilities. Stephen Munzer noted that “Hohfeld’s vocabulary has no serious rival of its kind in intellectual clarity, rigor, and power,” and I have no reason to disagree. I’ve been wondering, though, whether the level of detail provided by Hohfeld’s vocabulary is actually useful. The initial point that the word “right” can have many meanings is an important one to keep in mind when considering all sorts of legal issues, and I’m all for precision in theoretical discussion. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theoretical discussion where Hohfeld’s vocabulary really added that much. Can anyone point me to one?
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