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Contents

  1. Background Essays
  2. Proverb - Wikipedia
  3. Wisdom Literature
  4. Buddhist words for balance

The view that human rights are norms found in all human moralities is attractive but has serious difficulties. Although worldwide acceptance of human rights has been increasing rapidly in recent decades see 4. Universal Human Rights in a World of Diverse Beliefs and Practices , worldwide moral unanimity about human rights does not exist. Human rights declarations and treaties are intended to change existing norms, not just describe the existing moral consensus.

Yet another way of explaining the existence of human rights is to say that they exist most basically in true or justified ethical outlooks. On this account, to say that there is a human right against torture is mainly to assert that there are strong reasons for believing that it is always morally wrong to engage in torture and that protections should be provided against it. This approach would view the Universal Declaration as attempting to formulate a justified political morality for the whole planet.

It was not merely trying to identify a preexisting moral consensus; it was rather trying to create a consensus that could be supported by very plausible moral and practical reasons. This approach requires commitment to the objectivity of such reasons. It holds that just as there are reliable ways of finding out how the physical world works, or what makes buildings sturdy and durable, there are ways of finding out what individuals may justifiably demand of each other and of governments.

Even if unanimity about human rights is currently lacking, rational agreement is available to humans if they will commit themselves to open-minded and serious moral and political inquiry. If moral reasons exist independently of human construction, they can—when combined with true premises about current institutions, problems, and resources—generate moral norms different from those currently accepted or enacted.

The Universal Declaration seems to proceed on exactly this assumption see Morsink One problem with this view is that existence as good reasons seems a rather thin form of existence for human rights.

Background Essays

But perhaps we can view this thinness as a practical rather than a theoretical problem, as something to be remedied by the formulation and enactment of legal norms. The best form of existence for human rights would combine robust legal existence with the sort of moral existence that comes from widespread acceptance based on strong moral and practical reasons. Justifications for human rights should defend their main features including their character as rights, their universality, and their high priority.


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Such justifications should also be capable of providing starting points for justifying a plausible list of specific rights on starting points and making the transition to specific rights see Nickel ; see also Section 3 Which Rights are Human Rights? Further, justifying international human rights is likely to require additional steps Buchanan These requirements make the construction of a good justification for human rights a daunting task. Approaches to justification include grounding human rights in prudential reasons, practical reasons, moral rights Thomson , human well-being Sumner , Talbott , fundamental interests Beitz , human needs Miller , agency and autonomy Gewirth , Griffin dignity Gilabert , Kateb , Tasioulas , fairness Nickel , equality, and positive freedom Gould , Nussbaum , Sen Justifications can be based on just one of these types of reasons or they can be eclectic and appeal to several Tasioulas.

Grounding human rights in human agency and autonomy has had strong advocates in recent decades. For example, in Human Rights: Essays on Justification and Application Alan Gewirth offered an agency-based justification for human rights. He argued that denying the value of successful agency and action is not an option for a human being; having a life requires regarding the indispensable conditions of agency and action as necessary goods.

Abstractly described, these conditions of successful agency are freedom and well-being. Having demanded that others respect her freedom and well-being, consistency requires her to recognize and respect the freedom and well-being of other persons. Since all other agents are in exactly the same position as she is of needing freedom and well-being, consistency requires her to recognize and respect their claims to freedom and well-being. These two abstract rights work alone and together to generate equal specific human rights of familiar sorts Gewirth , , From a few hard-to-dispute facts and a principle of consistency he thinks we can derive two generic human rights—and from them, a list of more determinate rights.

Accordingly, the justifying generic function that Griffin assigns to human rights is protecting normative agency while taking account of practicalities. He thinks that tying all human rights to the single value of normative agency while taking account of practicalities is the best way to remedy this malady.

Proverb - Wikipedia

Beyond this, Griffin takes human rights to include many rights in interpersonal morality. Unfortunately, accepting and following this proposal is unlikely to yield effective barriers to proliferation or a sharp line between human rights and other moral norms. Views that explain human rights in terms of the practical political roles that they play have had prominent advocates in recent decades.

Two philosophers who have developed political conceptions are discussed in this section, namely, John Rawls and Charles Beitz for helpful discussions of political conceptions and their alternatives see the collections of essays in Etinson and Maliks and Schaffer Advocates of political conceptions of human rights are often agnostic or skeptical about universal moral rights while rejecting wholesale moral skepticism and thinking possible the provision of sound normative justifications for the content, normativity, and roles of human rights for challenges to purely political views see Gilabert , Liao and Etinson , Sangiovanni , and Waldron John Rawls introduced the idea of a political conception of human rights in his book, The Law of Peoples Rawls The basic idea is that we can understand what human rights are and what their justification requires by identifying the main roles they play in some political sphere.

In The Law of Peoples this sphere is international relations and, secondarily, national politics. Rawls says that human rights are a special class of urgent rights. He seems to accept the definition of human rights given in Section 1 above. But Rawls was working on a narrower project than Gewirth and Griffin. The international human rights he was concerned with are also defined by their roles in helping define in various ways the normative structure of the global system.

They provide content to other normative concepts such as legitimacy, sovereignty, permissible intervention, and membership in good standing in the international community. According to Rawls the justificatory process for human rights is analogous to the one for principles of justice at the national level that he described in A Theory of Justice Rawls Instead of asking about the terms of cooperation that free and equal citizens would agree to under fair conditions, we ask about the terms of cooperation that free and equal peoples or countries would agree to under fair conditions.

These representatives are imagined to see the countries they represent as free rightfully independent and equal equally worthy of respect and fair treatment.


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  • Rawls holds that under these conditions these representatives will unanimously choose principles for the global order that include some basic human rights for further explanation of the global original position see the entries on John Rawls and original position. Rawls advocated a limited list of human rights, one that leaves out many fundamental freedoms, rights of political participation, and equality rights.

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    He did this for two reasons. One is that he wanted a list that is plausible for all reasonable countries, not just liberal democracies. The second reason is that he viewed serious violations of human rights as triggering permissible intervention by other countries, and only the most important rights can play this role. Leaving out protections for equality and democracy is a high price to pay for assigning human rights the role of making international intervention permissible when they are seriously violated.

    To accept the idea that countries engaging in massive violations of the most important human rights are not to be tolerated we do not need to follow Rawls in equating international human rights with a heavily-pruned list. Instead we can work up a view—which is needed for other purposes anyway—of which human rights are the weightiest and then assign the intervention-permitting role to this subset. Like Rawls, Beitz deals with human rights only as they have developed in contemporary international human rights practice. The focus is not on what human rights are at some deep philosophical level; it is rather on how they work by guiding actions within a recently emerged and still evolving discursive practice.

    The norms of the practice guide the interpretation and application of human rights, the appropriateness of criticism in terms of human rights, adjudication in human rights courts, and—perhaps most importantly—responding to serious violations of human rights. He accepts that the requirements of human rights are weaker than the requirements of social justice at the national level, but denies that human rights are minimal or highly modest in other respects.

    Beitz rightly suggests that a reasonable person can accept and use the idea of human rights without accepting any particular view about their foundations. It is less clear that he is right in suggesting that good justifications of human rights should avoid as far as possible controversial assumptions about religion, metaphysics, ideology, and intrinsic value see the entry public reason.

    Beitz emphasizes the practical good that human rights do, not their grounds in some underlying moral reality.

    Wisdom Literature

    This helps make human rights attractive to people from around the world with their diverse religious and philosophical traditions. This section discusses the question of which rights belong on lists of human rights. A seventh category, minority and group rights, has been created by subsequent treaties.

    These rights protect women, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, children, migrant workers, and the disabled.

    Not every question of social justice or wise governance is a human rights issue. For example, a country could have too many lawyers or inadequate provision for graduate-level education without violating any human rights. Deciding which norms should be counted as human rights is a matter of considerable difficulty. And there is continuing pressure to expand lists of human rights to include new areas.

    Buddhist words for balance

    Many political movements would like to see their main concerns categorized as matters of human rights, since this would publicize, promote, and legitimize their concerns at the international level. One way to avoid rights inflation is to follow Cranston in insisting that human rights only deal with extremely important goods, protections, and freedoms. A supplementary approach is to impose several justificatory tests for specific human rights.

    This approach restrains rights inflation with several tests, not just one master test. In deciding which specific rights are human rights it is possible to make either too little or too much of international documents such as the Universal Declaration and the European Convention. One makes too little of them by proceeding as if drawing up a list of important rights were a new question, never before addressed, and as if there were no practical wisdom to be found in the choices of rights that went into the historic documents.

    And one makes too much of them by presuming that those documents tell us everything we need to know about human rights. There is little reason to take international diplomats as the most authoritative guides to which human rights there are.