Philosophy Today 65 (1):49-67 (2021)

I seek to understand the relationship between human vulnerability and human rights as something more than a problem that respect for human rights solves. After characterizing vulnerability and noting that human rights are generally regarded as entitlements that respect the dignity of persons by securing their autonomous agency, I draw out the implications of these premises. I argue that human vulnerabilities are constitutive of the capacity for autonomous agency and therefore that the circumstances of respect for persons must include persons’ vulnerability to many sorts of harms. Given that the opportunity to lead one’s life in one’s own way—that is, the opportunity to exercise autonomous agency—is indispensable to human dignity, respect for persons entails respect for the vulnerability that underwrites autonomous agency. If so, rights-bearers are necessarily vulnerable subjects. I further defend this conception of rights-bearers by arguing that it comports with three types of human rights theory: agency-centered, needs-centered, and practice-based accounts of human rights.
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DOI 10.5840/philtoday202129383
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