Discourse ethics and the political conception of human rights

Abstract
This article examines two recent alternatives to the traditional conception of human rights as natural rights: the account of human rights found in discourse ethics and the ‘political conception’ of human rights influenced by the work of Rawls. I argue that both accounts have distinct merits and that they are not as opposed to one another as is sometimes supposed. At the same time, the discourse ethics account must confront a deep ambiguity in its own approach: are rights derived in a strong sense from the conditions of ‘communicative freedom’ or are they developed from the participants’ own reflection upon their ongoing and continuously changing practices and institutions? The political conception recently proposed by Joshua Cohen can, I argue, contribute to the resolution of this ambiguity, though not without some modifications of its own. Keywords: human rights; discourse ethics; The ‘political conception’ of rights; Seyla Benhabib; John Rawls; Rainer Forst; Michael Ignatieff; Thomas Pogge; Joshua Cohen (Published: 10 March 2009) Citation: Ethics & Global Politics. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v2i1.1938
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