This article addresses the so-called to human rights. Focusing specifically on the work of Onora O'Neill, the article challenges two important aspects of her version of this objection. First: its narrowness. O'Neill understands the claimability of a right to depend on the identification of its duty-bearers. But there is good reason to think that the claimability of a right depends on more than just that, which makes abstract (and not welfare) rights the most natural target of her objection (section II). (...) After examining whether we might address this reformulated version of O'Neill's objection by appealing to the specificity afforded to human rights in international, regional and domestic law (in section III), the article challenges a second important feature of that objection by raising doubts about whether claimability is a necessary feature of rights at all (section IV). Finally, the article reflects more generally on the role of abstraction in the theory and practice of human rights (section V). In sum, by allaying claimability-based concerns about abstract rights, and by illustrating some of the positive functions of abstraction in rights discourse, the article hopes to show that abstract rights are not only theoretically coherent but also useful and important. (shrink)
What are human rights? According to one longstanding account, the Naturalistic Conception of human rights, human rights are those that we have simply in virtue of being human. In recent years, however, a new and purportedly alternative conception of human rights has become increasingly popular. This is the so-called Political Conception of human rights, the proponents of which include John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz. In this paper we argue for three claims. First, we demonstrate that Naturalistic Conceptions of (...) human rights can accommodate two of the most salient concerns that proponents of the Political Conception have raised about them. Second, we argue that the theoretical distance between Naturalistic and Political Conceptions is not as great as it has been made out to be. Finally, we argue that a Political Conception of human rights, on its own, lacks the resources necessary to determine the substantive content of human rights. If we are right, not only should the Naturalistic Conception not be rejected, the Political Conception is in fact incomplete without the theoretical resources that a Naturalistic Conception characteristically provides. These three claims, in tandem, provide a fresh and largely conciliatory perspective on the ongoing debate between proponents of Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights. (shrink)
Human rights have a rich life in the world around us. Political rhetoric pays tribute to them, or scorns them. Citizens and activists strive for them. The law enshrines them. And they live inside us too. For many of us, human rights form part of how we understand the world and what must (or must not) be done within it. -/- The ubiquity of human rights raises questions for the philosopher. If we want to understand these rights, where do we (...) look? As a set of moral norms, it is tempting to think they can be grasped strictly from the armchair, say, by appeal to moral intuition. But what, if anything, can that kind of inquiry tell us about the human rights of contemporary politics, law, and civil society — that is, human rights as we ordinarily know them? -/- This volume brings together a distinguished, interdisciplinary group of scholars to address philosophical questions raised by the many facets of human rights: moral, legal, political, and historical. Its original chapters, each accompanied by a critical commentary, explore topics including: the purpose and methods of a philosophical theory of human rights; the "Orthodox-Political" debate; the relevance of history to philosophy; the relationship between human rights morality and law; and the value of political critiques of human rights. (shrink)
Ethnocentrism, it is said, involves believing certain things to be true: that one's culture is superior to others, more deserving of respect, or at the ‘centre’ of things. On the alternative view defended in this article, ethnocentrism is a type of bias, not a set of beliefs. If this is correct, it challenges conventional wisdom about the scope, danger, and avoidance of ethnocentrism.
This is a review article of Charles Beitz's 2009 book on the philosophy of human rights, The Idea of Human Rights. The article provides a charitable overview of the book's main arguments, but also raises some doubts about the depth of the distinction between Beitz's 'practical' approach to humans rights and its 'naturalistic' counterparts.
In his recent book, Andrea Sangiovanni raises various objections against what he calls the “aristocratic” conception of dignity – the idea that dignity represents a kind of high- ranking social status. In this short article, I suggest that Sangiovanni gives the aristocrats less credit than they deserve. Not only do his objections target an uncharitably narrow version of the view, Sangiovanni surreptitiously incorporates aspects of the aristocratic conception of dignity into his own (supposedly non-dignitarian) theory of moral equality.
This short essay offers a commentary on Chapter 11 of David Wiggins’,Ethics(2006). The essay asks how we should interpret Wiggins’ defense of ethical ‘objectivity’ given his subjectivist metaethics. An interpretation is drawn from Sharon Street's work on metaethical constructivism, of which Wiggins’ view is taken to be one variety.
In the epilogue to his recent revisionist history of human rights, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Samuel Moyn considers the complex pressures exerted on the modern idea of human rights in light of its utopian status. One of these pressures, according to Moyn, consists in the “burden of politics,” i.e. the need for human rights to do more than offer “a set of minimal constraints on responsible politics,” but to present a bona fide political programme of their own. (...) In this essay review, I reflect on an opposite problem: the complex pressures exerted upon our utopian imagination in light of its habitual association with the modern idea of human rights. In particular, I illustrate the impoverishing effect that a preoccupation with rights can have on our utopian ideals. These reflections form the basis for my argument that, far from aiming as Moyn does to preserve the utopian status of the idea of human rights, we ought to wrest utopian thought free from its preoccupation with rights. (shrink)
ABSTRACT These comments focus on Part II of Pablo Gilabert's, Human Dignity and Human Rights. They make three main points. First, they stress the helpfulness of Gilabert's distinction between so-called “status” and “condition” dignity. Second, they raise doubts about Gilabert's understanding of the grounds of human dignity – in particular, whether these must include “valuable” features of human beings. And third, they ask whether Gilabert's account of dignity (as a measure of moral status) is not too distant from the everyday (...) understanding of dignity (as a measure of social status). (shrink)