Human rights as morality, human rights as law

Abstract

There has been growing interest in, and scholarly attention to, issues and questions that arise within the subject matter domain we may call "human rights theory". See, in particular, Amartya Sen, "Elements of a Theory of Human Rights," 32 Philosophy & Public Affairs 315 (2004); James W. Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights (rev. ed. 2006); Michael J. Perry, Toward a Theory of Human Rights: Religion, Law, Courts (2007); James Griffin, On Human Rights (2008); Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2008). This essay - a version of which will appear in a multi-authored collection of essays to be published by Oxford University Press in 2009 - is intended as a contribution to human rights theory. These are the principal questions, or sets of questions, I address in the essay:1. What is the morality of human rights - by which I mean the morality that, according to the International Bill of Human Rights, is the principal warrant for the law of human rights?2. How does the morality of human rights warrant the law of human rights?3. Some human-rights-claims are legal claims, but some are moral claims, and some are both. What does a human-rights-claim of the legal sort mean? A human-rights-claim of the moral sort? And when does it make sense to think of a right that only some human beings have - children, for example - as a human right?4. Is there a plausible secular ground for the morality of human rights?5. At the end of the proverbial day, what difference does it make - why should we care - if there is no plausible secular ground for the morality of human rights?Comments and questions welcome.

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