Agency and Human Rights

Journal of Applied Philosophy 27 (1):15-25 (2010)
Abstract
What grounds human rights? How do we determine that something is a human right? James Griffin has persuasively argued that the notion of agency should determine the content of human rights. However, Griffin's agency account faces the question of why agency should be the sole ground for human rights. For example, can Griffin's notion of agency by itself adequately explain such human rights as that against torture? Or, has Griffin offered a plausible explanation as to why one should not broaden the ground for human rights to include other elements of a good life such as freedom from great pain, understanding, deep personal relations, and so on? These concerns have been raised regarding Griffin's agency account, but in his new book, On Human Rights , Griffin has offered new arguments in support of his view that agency is the sole ground for human rights. In this paper, I examine these new arguments, and I argue that Griffin's arguments are ultimately unsuccessful.
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