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Toggle navigation. New to eBooks. How many copies would you like to buy? Add to Cart Add to Cart. Add to Wishlist Add to Wishlist. Thus, in his Nicomachean Ethics , Aristotle unambiguously expounds an argument in support of the existence of a natural moral order. This natural order ought to provide the basis for all truly rational systems of justice. An appeal to the natural order provides a set of comprehensive and potentially universal criteria for evaluating the legitimacy of actual 'man-made' legal systems.

The means for determining the form and content of natural justice is the exercise of reason free from the distorting effects of mere prejudice or desire. This basic idea was similarly expressed by the Roman Stoics, such as Cicero and Seneca, who argued that morality originated in the rational will of God and the existence of a cosmic city from which one could discern a natural, moral law whose authority transcended all local legal codes.

The Stoics' argued that this ethically universal code imposed upon all of us a duty to obey the will of god. The Stoics thereby posited the existence of a universal moral community effected through our shared relationship with god. The belief in the existence of a universal moral community was maintained in Europe by Christianity over the ensuing centuries. While some have discerned intimations towards the notion of rights in the writings of Aristotle, the Stoics, and Christian theologians, a concept of rights approximating that of the contemporary idea of human rights most clearly emerges during the 17th.

And 18th. Centuries in Europe and the so-called doctrine of natural law. The basis of the doctrine of natural law is the belief in the existence of a natural moral code based upon the identification of certain fundamental and objectively verifiable human goods. Our enjoyment of these basic goods is to be secured by our possession of equally fundamental and objectively verifiable natural rights. Natural law was deemed to pre-exist actual social and political systems. Natural rights were thereby similarly presented as rights individuals possessed independently of society or polity.

Natural rights were thereby presented as ultimately valid irrespective of whether they had achieved the recognition of any given political ruler or assembly. The quintessential exponent of this position was the 17th. Century philosopher John Locke and, in particular, the argument he outlined in his Two Treatises of Government At the centre of Locke's argument is the claim that individuals possess natural rights, independently of the political recognition granted them by the state.

These natural rights are possessed independently of, and prior to, the formation of any political community. Locke argued that natural rights flowed from natural law. Natural law originated from God. Accurately discerning the will of God provided us with an ultimately authoritative moral code. At root, each of us owes a duty of self-preservation to God. In order to successfully discharge this duty of self-preservation each individual had to be free from threats to life and liberty, whilst also requiring what Locke presented as the basic, positive means for self-preservation: personal property.

Our duty of self-preservation to god entailed the necessary existence of basic natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Locke proceeded to argue that the principal purpose of the investiture of political authority in a sovereign state was the provision and protection of individuals' basic natural rights. The natural rights to life, liberty, and property set clear limits to the authority and jurisdiction of the State.

States were presented as existing to serve the interests, the natural rights, of the people, and not of a Monarch or a ruling cadre. Locke went so far as to argue that individuals are morally justified in taking up arms against their government should it systematically and deliberately fail in its duty to secure individuals' possession of natural rights. Analyses of the historical predecessors of the contemporary theory of human rights typically accord a high degree of importance to Locke's contribution.

Certainly, Locke provided the precedent of establishing legitimate political authority upon a rights foundation. This is an undeniably essential component of human rights. However, the philosophically adequate completion of theoretical basis of human rights requires an account of moral reasoning, that is both consistent with the concept of rights, but which does not necessarily require an appeal to the authority of some super-human entity in justifying human beings' claims to certain, fundamental rights.

The 18th. Century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant provides such an account. Many of the central themes first expressed within Kant's moral philosophy remain highly prominent in contemporary philosophical justifications of human rights. Foremost amongst these are the ideals of equality and the moral autonomy of rational human beings.

Kant bestows upon contemporary human rights' theory the ideal of a potentially universal community of rational individuals autonomously determining the moral principles for securing the conditions for equality and autonomy. Kant provides a means for justifying human rights as the basis for self-determination grounded within the authority of human reason. Kant's moral philosophy is based upon an appeal to the formal principles of ethics, rather than, for example, an appeal to a concept of substantive human goods. For Kant, the determination of any such goods can only proceed from a correct determination of the formal properties of human reason and thus do not provide the ultimate means for determining the correct ends, or object, of human reason.

Kant's moral philosophy begins with an attempt to correctly identify those principles of reasoning that can be applied equally to all rational persons, irrespective of their own specific desires or partial interests. In this way, Kant attaches a condition of universality to the correct identification of moral principles. For him, the basis of moral reasoning must rest upon a condition that all rational individuals are bound to assent to.

Doing the right thing is thus not determined by acting in pursuit of one's own interests or desires, but acting in accordance with a maxim which all rational individuals are bound to accept. Kant terms this the categorical imperative, which he formulates in the following terms, 'act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

Kant argues that this basic condition of universality in determining the moral principles for governing human relations is a necessary expression of the moral autonomy and fundamental equality of all rational individuals. The categorical imperative is self-imposed by morally autonomous and formally equal rational persons. It provides the basis for determining the scope and form of those laws which morally autonomous and equally rational individuals will institute in order to secure these very same conditions. For Kant, the capacity for the exercise of reason is the distinguishing characteristic of humanity and the basis for justifying human dignity.

As the distinguishing characteristic of humanity, formulating the principles of the exercise of reason must necessarily satisfy a test of universality; they must be capable of being universally recognized by all equally rational agents. Hence, Kant's formulation of the categorical imperative. Though often overlooked in accounts of the historical development of human rights, his contribution to human rights has been profound.

Kant provides a formulation of fundamental moral principles that, though exceedingly formal and abstract, are based upon the twin ideals of equality and moral autonomy. Human rights are rights we give to ourselves, so to speak, as autonomous and formally equal beings. For Kant, any such rights originate in the formal properties of human reason, and not the will of some super-human being. The philosophical ideas defended by the likes of Locke and Kant have come to be associated with the general Enlightenment project initiated during the 17th.

Centuries, the effects of which were to extend across the globe and over ensuing centuries. Ideals such as natural rights, moral autonomy, human dignity and equality provided a normative bedrock for attempts at re-constituting political systems, for overthrowing formerly despotic regimes and seeking to replace them with forms of political authority capable of protecting and promoting these new emancipatory ideals. These ideals effected significant, even revolutionary, political upheavals throughout the 18th.

Similarly, the concept of individual rights continued to resound throughout the 19th. Century exemplified by Mary Wollstencraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women and other political movements to extend political suffrage to sections of society who had been denied the possession of political and civil rights. The concept of rights had become a vehicle for effecting political change. Though one could argue that the conceptual prerequisites for the defence of human rights had long been in place, a full Declaration of the doctrine of human rights only finally occurred during the 20th.

Century and only in response to the most atrocious violations of human rights, exemplified by the Holocaust.


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December and was explicitly motivated to prevent the future occurrence of any similar atrocities. The Declaration itself goes far beyond any mere attempt to reassert all individuals' possession of the right to life as a fundamental and inalienable human right. The UDHR consists of a Preamble and 30 articles which separately identify such things as the right not to be tortured article 5 , a right to asylum article 14 , a right to own property article 17 , and a right to an adequate standard of living article 25 as being fundamental human rights.

The specific aspirations contained within these three documents have themselves been reinforced by innumerable other Declarations and Conventions. Taken together these various Declarations, conventions and covenants comprise the contemporary human rights doctrine and embody both the belief in the existence of a universally valid moral order and a belief in all human beings' possession of fundamental and equal moral status, enshrined within the concept of human rights. It is important to note, however, that the contemporary doctrine of human rights, whilst deeply indebted to the concept of natural rights, is not a mere expression of that concept but actually goes beyond it in some highly significant respects.

James Nickel identifies three specific ways in which the contemporary concept of human rights differs from, and goes beyond that of natural rights. First, he argues that contemporary human rights are far more concerned to view the realization of equality as requiring positive action by the state, via the provision of welfare assistance, for example. Second, he argues that, whereas advocates of natural rights tended to conceive of human beings as mere individuals, veritable 'islands unto themselves', advocates of contemporary human rights are far more willing to recognize the importance of family and community in individuals' lives.

Third, Nickel views contemporary human rights as being far more 'internationalist' in scope and orientation than was typically found within arguments in support of natural rights. That is to say, the protection and promotion of human rights are increasingly seen as requiring international action and concern. The distinction drawn by Nickel between contemporary human rights and natural rights allows one to discern the development of the concept of human rights.

Indeed, many writers on human rights agree in the identification of three generations of human rights. First generation rights consist primarily of rights to security, property, and political participation. These are most typically associated with the French and US Declarations. Second generation rights are construed as socio-economic rights, rights to welfare, education, and leisure, for example. These rights largely originate within the UDHR. The final and third generation of rights are associated with such rights as a right to national self-determination, a clean environment, and the rights of indigenous minorities.

This generation of rights really only takes hold during the last two decades of the 20th. Century but represents a significant development within the doctrine of human rights generally. While the full significance of human rights may only be finally dawning on some people, the concept itself has a history spanning over two thousand years. The development of the concept of human rights is punctuated by the emergence and assimilation of various philosophical and moral ideals and appears to culminate, at least to our eyes, in the establishment of a highly complex set of legal and political documents and institutions, whose express purpose is the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights of all human beings everywhere.

Few should underestimate the importance of this particular current of human history. Human rights are rights that attach to human beings and function as moral guarantees in support of our claims towards the enjoyment of a minimally good life. In conceptual terms, human rights are themselves derivative of the concept of a right. This section focuses upon the philosophical analysis of the concept of a 'right' in order to clearly demonstrate the various constituent parts of the concept from which human rights emerges.

In order to gain a full understanding of both the philosophical foundations of the doctrine of human rights and the different ways in which separate human rights function, a detailed analysis is required. The distinction drawn between moral rights and legal rights as two separate categories of rights is of fundamental importance to understanding the basis and potential application of human rights.

Legal rights refer to all those rights found within existing legal codes. A legal right is a right that enjoys the recognition and protection of the law. Questions as to its existence can be resolved by simply locating the relevant legal instrument or piece of legislation. A legal right cannot be said to exist prior to its passing into law and the limits of its validity are set by the jurisdiction of the body which passed the relevant legislation.

An example of a legal right would be my daughter's legal right to receive an adequate education, as enshrined within the United Kingdom's Education Act Suffice it to say, that the exercise of this right is limited to the United Kingdom. My daughter has no legal right to receive an adequate education from a school board in Southern California. Legal positivists argue that the only rights that can be said to legitimately exist are legal rights, rights that originate within a legal system.

On this view, moral rights are not rights in the strict sense, but are better thought of as moral claims, which may or may not eventually be assimilated within national or international law. For a legal positivist, such as the 19th. Century legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham, there can be no such thing as human rights existing prior to, or independently from legal codification. For a positivist determining the existence of rights is no more complicated than locating the relevant legal statute or precedent. In stark contrast, moral rights are rights that, it is claimed, exist prior to and independently from their legal counterparts.

The existence and validity of a moral right is not deemed to be dependent upon the actions of jurists and legislators. Many people argued, for example, that the black majority in apartheid South Africa possessed a moral right to full political participation in that country's political system, even though there existed no such legal right.

What is interesting is that many people framed their opposition to apartheid in rights terms. What many found so morally repugnant about apartheid South Africa was precisely its denial of numerous fundamental moral rights, including the rights not to be discriminated against on grounds of colour and rights to political participation, to the majority of that country's inhabitants. This particular line of opposition and protest could only be pursued because of a belief in the existence and validity of moral rights. A belief that fundamental rights which may or may not have received legal recognition elsewhere, remained utterly valid and morally compelling even, and perhaps especially, in those countries whose legal systems had not recognized these rights.

Philosophical dimensions of human rights : some contemporary views

A rights-based opposition to apartheid South Africa could not have been initiated and maintained by appeal to legal rights, for obvious reasons. No one could legitimately argue that the legal political rights of non-white South Africans were being violated under apartheid, since no such legal rights existed. The systematic denial of such rights did, however, constitute a gross violation of those peoples' fundamental moral rights. From the above example it should be clear that human rights cannot be reduced to, or exclusively identified with legal rights. The legal positivist's account of justified law excludes the possibility of condemning such systems as apartheid from a rights perspective.

It might, therefore, appear tempting to draw the conclusion that human rights are best identified as moral rights. After all, the existence of the UDHR and various International Covenants, to which South Africa was not a signatory in most cases, provided opponents of apartheid with a powerful moral argument. Apartheid was founded upon the denial of fundamental human rights. Human rights certainly share an essential quality of moral rights, namely, that their valid existence is not deemed to be conditional upon their being legally recognized.

Human rights are meant to apply to all human beings everywhere, regardless of whether they have received legal recognition by all countries everywhere. Clearly, there remain numerous countries that wholly or partially exclude formal legal recognition to fundamental human rights.

Supporters of human rights in these countries insist that the rights remain valid regardless, as fundamental moral rights. The universality of human rights positively entails such claims. The universality of human rights as moral rights clearly lends greater moral force to human rights. However, for their part, legal rights are not subject to disputes as to their existence and validity in quite the way moral rights are. It would be a mistake to exclusively identify human rights with moral rights. Human rights are better thought of as both moral rights and legal rights.

Human rights originate as moral rights and their legitimacy is necessarily dependent upon the legitimacy of the concept of moral rights. A principal aim of advocates of human rights is for these rights to receive universal legal recognition. This was, after all, a fundamental goal of the opponents of apartheid. Human rights are best thought of, therefore, as being both moral and legal rights. The legitimacy claims of human rights are tied to their status as moral rights. The practical efficacy of human rights is, however, largely dependent upon their developing into legal rights. In those cases where specific human rights do not enjoy legal recognition, such as in the example of apartheid above, moral rights must be prioritised with the intention that defending the moral claims of such rights as a necessary prerequisite for the eventual legal recognition of the rights in question.

To gain an understanding of the functional properties of human rights it is necessary to consider the more specific distinction drawn between claim rights and liberty rights. It should be noted that it is something of a convention to begin such discussions by reference to W. Hohfeld's more extended classification of rights. Hohfeld identified four categories of rights: liberty rights, claim rights, power rights, and immunity rights. However, numerous scholars have subsequently tended to collapse the last two within the first two and hence to restrict attention to liberty rights and claim rights.

The political philosopher Peter Jones provides one such example. Jones restricts his focus to the distinction between claim rights and liberty rights. He conforms to a well-established trend in rights' analysis in viewing the former as being of primary importance. Jones defines a claim right as consisting of being owed a duty. A claim right is a right one holds against another person or persons who owe a corresponding duty to the right holder.

Human rights in political and legal theory

To return to the example of my daughter. Her right to receive an adequate education is a claim right held against the local education authority, which has a corresponding duty to provide her with the object of the right. Jones identifies further necessary distinctions within the concept of a claim right when he distinguishes between a positive claim right and a negative claim right.

The former are rights one holds to some specific good or service, which some other has a duty to provide. My daughter's claim right to education is therefore a positive claim right. Negative claim rights, in contrast, are rights one holds against others' interfering in or trespassing upon one's life or property in some way. My daughter could be said to possess a negative claim right against others attempting to steal her mobile phone, for example. Rights held in personam are rights one holds against some specifically identified duty holder, such as the education authority.

In contrast, rights held in rem are rights held against no one in particular, but apply to everyone. Thus, my daughter's right to an education would be practically useless were it not held against some identifiable, relevant, and competent body.

The Philosophy of Human Rights

Equally, her right against her mobile phone being stolen from her would be highly limited if it did not apply to all those capable of potentially performing such an act. Claim rights, then, can be of either a positive or a negative character and they can be held either in personam or in rem. Jones defines liberty rights as rights which exist in the absence of any duties not to perform some desired activity and thus consist of those actions one is not prohibited from performing.

In contrast to claim rights, liberty rights are primarily negative in character. But real beliefs are more complicated than that. For example, someone may believe at the same time that all humans were made in the image of God, and that God made men and women different. One of those beliefs may form the epistemic foundation for gender equality, the other for gender inequality.

The other problem with theistic justifications is that they only succeed insofar as we share belief, whereas it is clearly the case that we do not. Even if we look at the history of humanity as a whole, we obviously never really did. Outside religion, there is no comprehensive theory that tells us what we must believe.

There is, however, a tradition of political thought, principally represented by Alexis de Tocqueville, which has explained the importance of belief in the development of social and political institutions. This tradition can help us address a series of important questions for our era: what happens once belief is replaced by disbelief? Will the good assumptions for instance, in the case of Christian belief, about human equality, about the inviolability of the person and the sacredness of life that are generated by religious belief survive its demise?

Articulating the case for human rights in religious terms may still have an important practical advantage in some situations. In the contest with the belief-based opposition to rights — such as in the situation discussed above of a pro human rights member of parliament in Egypt having to make the case for human rights to colleagues holding fundamentalist beliefs — a series of belief-based arguments for human rights may prove an effective rejoinder.

It might help, for example, to speak of assumptions rather than foundations. Naturally, even if we agreed that we need common assumptions, we may continue to disagree on what those assumptions should be. A fundamentalist might, for example, argue that a proper assumption is inequality of men and women. The assumptions themselves will be contingent on some other principle on which, since we posited fundamental disagreement, we cannot agree, e.

Or in order to thrive as human beings? Or to pursue the good life? Nevertheless, speaking of assumptions rather than foundations offers, at the very least, the presentational advantage of avoiding a truth-based claim. This may just be enough to persuade some to set aside strongly held beliefs not with a view to replacing them which a believer will not be prepared to do but as part of a dialogue on how best to coexist with others and to organise society.

If human rights are presented as a mutually convenient way of organising society rather than as a set of legal principles derived from a common moral truth, they will not be measured against the standard of religious belief where they may fail or succeed, depending on the belief. And it is not inconceivable that a person who has accepted to agree on the need to agree on something might then be prepared to accept a further step: that the process of generating certain assumptions necessary even for minimal social interactions is best approached as a normative exercise.

I do not for a second foresee fundamentalists jumping on a Kantian bandwagon, but we may at least spark a disposition to question in a precious few, particularly if we bear in mind that beliefs, powerful though they are, also have a certain malleability and do not provide clear and coherent answers to all social and political questions. A theory of human rights is as much a theory of the human as it is a theory of rights. Not every human rights theory will openly advance a theory of the self or — to borrow from the title of a complex and elegant book by the Italian Catholic existentialist Luigi Pareyson — an ontology of liberty.

An analysis of the ontological dimension of human rights theory would require a very extensive investigation, which cannot be undertaken here. First, human rights cannot exist without a conception of the individual. This may seem obvious but, as Larry Siedentop has explained, the Western idea of the individual is an invention that has taken centuries to develop.

It seems incontrovertible that individuality, rather than individualism, is a necessary condition for human rights as we generally understand them. Lebow discusses four strategies for constructing identity. It is typical of millennial movements like Dispensationalism. Of these four strategies, the first two seem to me to be clearly incompatible with any meaningful concept of human rights, while the last two can sustain, and perhaps to a significant extent even require, human rights. Secondly, human rights are incompatible with theories that see the individual as entirely subordinate to communal interests.

Conceivably even a strong form of communitarianism can accommodate some fundamental individual rights. Mulhall and A. Swift, Liberals and Communitarians London, Blackwell, Thirdly, although a reductionist conception of the individual may accommodate some human rights, the human rights that will attach to individuals thus conceived will be, at best, very sparse. The main example of the kind of human rights that a reductionist account of human nature produces is found in Hobbes. In De Cive Hobbes had accepted the view, which was prevalent in his time, that power over a person, even when not exercised, is a constraint on liberty.

Humean reductionism, while not as mechanicistic as Hobbesian reductionism, is also problematic. The reduction ist tendency of much empiricism is the reason why I am more hesitant to link British empiricism with liberalism Lebow n. When empiricism leads to reductionism and utilitarianism, as was often the case in British political thought, the liberal tradition may have maintained itself in that country in spite of, rather than thanks to, empiricism.

Ontological reductionism has far from lost its appeal. It survives, and thrives, for example, in behaviouralist accounts of human nature. It is certainly no coincidence that the founder of behaviouralist psychology, when he applied his theory to the concepts of freedom and dignity, argued that these should be set aside.

Fourthly, a conception of human beings that refuses to accept any universal commonality also makes human rights impossible. In one of her essays on human rights, she attacks postmodernism precisely because of the postmodernist attempt to dismantle any of universality Are Women Human?

Cambridge MA, Belknap, Soft identitarianism has gained considerable force in public argument in recent decades. It has yielded an ever expanding catalogue of rights which vests exclusively in individuals defined by their possession of certain collective traits. Although soft identitarianism is not prima facie incompatible with human rights, it does risk undermining them to the extent that it grounds them ever more in the particular rather than the general.

The particular should feed and enrich our concept of the general. The fact that we accept, recognise and protect human conditions which were previously ignored or neglected should lead us to deepen our appreciation of the human, and to expand our imagination — for, ultimately, one of our most formidable traits as a species is that we can imagine to be what we are not. It is the first link of the series by which we proceed towards a love for our country and to mankind. In liberal accounts of human rights, the individual is the main bearer of rights. At the outset it should be noted that the idea of the state as sole duty holder is not a requisite of the main classical theories of human rights.

Locke, for example, did not seem to have any doubt about the fact that natural rights created juridical relationships between individuals rather than just between the individual and the state. Natural rights originate in the state of nature, where there is no political society and where the only duty holders are other human beings.

VII para. As I have argued elsewhere, from a liberal perspective, the role of the state as protector of human rights imposes limits on the transfer of sovereign powers to international organisations. See G. The idea of the state as sole duty holder has been the object of severe criticism from feminist legal theorists. This distinction is, of course, reflected in many codes of human rights such as the US Bill of Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights, which concern themselves exclusively with state or public actions.

The principle of the state as sole duty holder is seen by these feminist thinkers as a way of shielding power in the private sphere from scrutiny and sanction. Yet, as mentioned before, on at least two of the traditional liberal accounts, natural rights were considered perfectly capable of generating obligations incumbent upon private individuals. To paraphrase Rawls, if the so-called private sphere is alleged to be a space exempt from the application of the law of the state, then there is no such thing in liberal thought. If the so-called private sphere is alleged to be a space exempt from justice, then there is no such thing.

Yet, modern legal systems do differentiate between the individual—state relationship and individual—individual relationships, with human rights being generally reserved to the former. An example where the public or private nature of the conduct changes the legal characterisation is the infliction of severe pain on an individual for the purposes of extracting a confession. If this conduct is imputable to a public official, it will be considered torture or, at the very least, cruel or inhuman treatment. If, for example, the domestic legislation of a state permitted the infliction of physical pain by men on women as a form of private punishment, that state would still find itself in breach of a number of human rights obligations.

So why did the eighteenth-century bills of rights legislate in individual—state terms? The reason has nothing to do with the intention to allow powers, the exercise of which by the state was now being subject to limitations, to continue to be exercised without any limitations in the private sphere. More likely explanations have to do with the fact that these were revolutionary enactments adopted at the end of a prolonged struggle with public power.

Human Rights | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

But this was neither the cause nor the consequence of the framing of those bills of rights in individual—state terms. All radical criticism of human rights follows a similar pattern. The blueprint was set out by Marx in his essay On the Jewish Question. On exploitation see: S. Marks ed. How one should react to the flaws of the idea and practice of human rights remains contested among neo-Marxist scholars — a dispute which has taken place against the background of a broader argument on the relevance of international law. Insofar as human rights perform a function of legitimation for forms of social and economic exploitation, they will be inimical to a Marxist project of emancipation.

Among those who think that Marxism does not entail rejection of human rights and of the international law project see: B. Other radical theorists, for whom Marx has been an influence, take the main lesson of the Marxist critique to be an invitation to be constantly alert to the way in which power manifests itself and reinvents itself in each society and in the world. Human rights theory thus ends up overlapping almost perfectly with a theory of power. For MacKinnon, with all their limits and biases, international human rights can still fulfil an emancipatory role as long as the practice of human rights is embedded in a truthful narrative of power particularly its gendered dimension.

Contemporary theoretical argument tends to take place within distinct disciplinary boundaries. There may sometimes be good reasons for this. If the assumptions and the questions differ completely, dialogue is difficult or even frustrating. But the point and the beauty of philosophical investigation is that it should invite us to challenge the assumptions and to rethink the questions. It is probably fair to say that most human rights scholarship these days is informed by one or both of these trends.

Yet, the importance of questions about the first principles of human rights cannot be escaped. If human rights, as a legal and institutional phenomenon, become too far removed from a discernible moral and political idea, they will in the long run become indefensible …. The League of Arab States a Victims' participation and International environmental The relationship of interna We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy.

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Metrics Views 3. Insofar as theoretical argument takes the idea of human rights back to one or more of the Western philosophical traditions whence it might have sprung — medieval scholastics, natural law, the Enlightenment, or liberalism — it is viewed with suspicion and apprehension by those keen to defuse this political attack and avoid the association of human rights with the West. Also firmly of this view was Ernst Cassirer, whose book on the Enlightenment has had great influence.

Even so, an important question remains: which Enlightenment? For Burke, rights, abstracted from any tradition and juxtaposed to all authority, become mere desires.

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All dignity-based accounts of human rights are inspired in one way or another by Immanuel Kant. Kant introduced the idea of dignity in his discussion of the implications of the categorical imperative. IV at A fundamental distinction must be drawn in the kingdom of ends between what has price and what has dignity.

Unlike everything else, morality is irreplaceable and incommensurable. In a Kantian sense, therefore, human dignity pertains to human beings because they are the only creatures capable of moral self-legislation in accordance with universal reason. Dignity is instead derived from conceptions of normative agency as process 26 This is the case of Dworkin, although he maintains his account of moral responsibility Dworkin n.

But Moyn misreads Arendt. But Arendt was examining the concept of human rights in the Enlightenment declarations of human rights: whatever novelty she may have ascribed to the idea of human rights originated in the eighteenth century and not the twentieth. Although Arendt does not elaborate on the connection between human rights and natural rights, it is clear from various passages that she sees the two concepts as almost interchangeable. Arendt is defending an organic conception of liberty.