In Adam Etinson (ed.), Human Rights: Moral or Political? Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 375-399 (2018)

Pablo Gilabert
Concordia University
Human rights are particularly relevant in contexts in which there are significant asymmetries of power, but where these asymmetries exist the human rights project turns out to be especially difficult to realize. The stronger can use their disproportionate power both to threaten others’ human rights and to frustrate attempts to secure their fulfillment. They may even monopolize the international discussion as to what human rights are and how they should be implemented. This paper explores this tension between the normative ideal of human rights and the facts of asymmetric power. It has two objectives. The first, pursued in section 2, is to reconstruct and assess a set of important power-related worries about human rights. These worries are sometimes presented as falsifying the view that human rights exist, or at least as warranting the abandonment of human rights practice. The paper argues that the worries do not support such conclusions. Instead, they motivate the identification of certain desiderata for the amelioration of human rights practice. The paper proceeds to articulate twelve such desiderata. The second objective, pursued in section 3, is to propose a strategy for satisfying the desiderata identified in the previous section. In particular, the paper suggests some ways to build empowerment into the human rights project that reduce the absolute and relative powerlessness of human rights holders, while also identifying an ethics of responsibility and solidarity for contexts in which power asymmetries will not dissolve. Power analysis does not debunk the human rights project. Properly articulated, it is an important tool for those pursuing it.
Keywords Human Rights  Power  Justice
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - Oxford University Press.
The Idea of Justice.Amartya Kumar Sen - 2009 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Ideal Vs. Non‐Ideal Theory: A Conceptual Map.Laura Valentini - 2012 - Philosophy Compass 7 (9):654-664.
The Concept of the Political.Carl Schmitt - 1996 - University of Chicago Press.

View all 20 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Facts, Norms, and Dignity.Pablo Gilabert - 2019 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 22 (1):34-54.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Reconceptualizing Human Rights.Marcus Arvan - 2012 - Journal of Global Ethics 8 (1):91-105.
Human Rights and Human Well-Being.William Talbott - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
The Global Reach of Human Rights.Amartya Sen - 2012 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 29 (2):91-100.
Human Rights: The Inapplicable Concept.Ovadia Ezra - 2003 - Social Philosophy Today 19:217-235.
On Global Justice.Mathias Risse - 2012 - Princeton University Press.
Toward a Hermeneutic Anthropology of Human Rights.Georgia Apostolopoulou - 2007 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 3:151-156.
Press Performance, Human Rights, and Private Power as a Threat.C. Edwin Baker - 2011 - Law and Ethics of Human Rights 5 (2):219-256.


Added to PP index

Total views
3,203 ( #1,121 of 2,505,142 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
172 ( #3,460 of 2,505,142 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes