The Authority of Human Rights Practice: A review of Charles Beitz, The Idea of Human Rights [Book Review]
Jurisprudence 2 (1):239-247 (2011)
In The Idea of Human Rights (hereafter IHR), Charles Beitz advocates a different approach to questions about the nature and aims of human rights. He advances a ‘practical conception’, which turns to the role that human rights play in contemporary political discourse to arrive at answers about the structure and function of human rights. As Beitz says, ‘we take the functional role of human rights in international discourse and practice as basic: it constrains our conception of a human right from the start’ (103). Accordingly, we answer questions about the structure and function of human rights practice (eg, about the relevant participants in the practice or its public discursive role) with a sort of philosophical anthropology. Instead of looking to fundamental moral ideas to discover the nature and aims of human rights discourse, we instead turn to the ‘linguistic commitments one would undertake if one were to participate in good faith in the … practice’ (106). We interpret the relevant international texts, the public political culture of human rights practice, and actions by states, international institutions and non-governmental organisations so as to ‘attend to the practical inferences that would be drawn by competent participants in the practice from what they regard as valid claims of human rights’ (102). From these sources we can construct an interpretation of the nature and purpose of human rights.
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