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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 23, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

OEDIPUS AT FENWAY PARK: What Rights Are and Why There Are Any by Lloyd L. Weinreb (Harvard University Press: $29.95; 221 pp.). Books about rights, as Harvard Law School professor Lloyd Weinreb notes in his introduction to this volume, appear with almost appalling frequency these days. One reason is that rights are so hard to define: one person's right is another person's wrong, just as the right to swing one's arm is limited by a neighboring nose. Weinreb argues, in a nutshell, that rights are intrinsic to the human lot, having emerged from age-old community traditions, and are directly and inextricably linked to social concepts of responsibility (a word, oddly, on which he spends little time). Weinreb swims in murky water here--so murky, indeed, that he may well disagree with the paraphrasing above--but it's pretty clear he sees the idea of "rights" as man's way of attempting to account for the fact that life at times seems self-determined, at others predetermined. That's "Oedipus at Fenway Park": If the Theban king was predestined to be a parricide, despite his exceptional abilities and apparent free will, then couldn't a lousy but resourceful pitcher tell the Red Sox manager he has just as much right to take the mound as Roger Clemens? Weinreb's theory is a stretch, and dense philosophical language renders it inaccessible much of the time, but Oedipus at Fenway Park does highlight nicely the question of just desserts. Salieri would understand the problem, even if it eluded Mozart.

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