On revaluing the currency of human rights

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 6 (3):307-328 (2007)
Abstract
In a recent spate of reflective writings on the concept of human rights, philosophers have been concerned to firm up the analytical boundaries of human rights discourse, without excluding welfare rights from the catalogue. The article considers three of these recent attempts to `revalue the currency' of human rights: the agency conception, the pluralist conception, and the negative duties conception. It ultimately defends a `dignity-based' account of human rights, in which any number of human interests and values may ground a right, but in which the failure to respect the right must constitute a threat to human dignity (one's sense of self-worth as a person) in order for it to count as a genuine human right. It further argues that a `dignity-based' account of human rights justifies a focus on the state as the agent against which human rights are held, and gives us reason to doubt that the state could adequately fulfil the human-rights-based duties it owes its citizens by simple forbearance. On the account offered here, the state may be said to violate the rights of its members, and to threaten their human dignity, when it fails to provide them with the means to realize their basic needs. Key Words: human dignity • civil and political rights • welfare rights • social rights.
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