On Human Rights

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Overview

This book is prompted by the widespread belief that we do not yet have a clear enough idea of what human rights are. The term 'natural right', in its modern sense of an entitlement that a person has, first appeared in the late Middle Ages. When during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the theological content of the idea was abandoned in stages, nothing was put in its place. The secularized notion that we were left with at the end of the Englightenment is still our notion today, in this respect. Its intension has not changed since then: a right that we have simply in virtue of being human. During the twentieth century international law has contribute to settling its extension, but its contribution has its limits.

The notion of a human right that we have inherited suffers from no small indeterminateness of sense. The term has been left with so few criteria for determining when it is used correctly that we often have a plainly inadequate grasp on what is at issue. We today need to remedy its indeterminateness; we need to complete the incomplete idea. That is the aim of this book. Its argument is of concern, and is accessible, to philosophers, jurisprudents, political theorists, international lawyers, civil servants, and rights activists.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"thoughtful, interesting, informative, often illuminating." --Social Theory and Practice

"This book is a masterpiece ...it will be studied for a long time to come."--Brad Hooker, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies

"James Griffin's new book is a singular contribution to the philosophy of human rights. In it he defends his own well-thought-out account with great subtlety and ingenuity, but the exposition of his account and the discussion of the important issues are so nicely structured and so clear and well-informed that the book could clearly be used as a text in an undergraduate course. At the same time, Griffin's exposition of his view is so subtle and nuanced and the arguments so careful and cogent that the book is an essential work for specialists in the field... his book shows that philosophers have an important contribution to make to the conceptual and moral issues that are at the heart of much ongoing discourse on the nature and content of human rights."--William J. Talbott, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Arguably the most significant philosophical meditation on human rights...[since] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.... Not only the most powerful, fully elaborated contemporary philosophical contribution to the topic, but also one that has put in place many of the foundations on which any future work should build."--John Tasioulas, Ethics

"A fresh and timely look at the whole field of human rights. Griffin adroitly picks his way through this judicial and moral minefield in which a person's perception of a 'human right' can be condemned as a crime by someone of a different political or religious background."--Patricia Allen, Northern Echo

"James Griffin modestly sees his book as an early contribution to a theoretical critique of modern interpretations of rights, but it is more significant than that. Academic, intellectually demanding, clearly written and rigorously thought through. This is not a polemic but an important work of scholarly philosophy, one that may lead to a fundamental reappraisal of something that impinges ever more closely upon us. It is also one of those books that make philosophy matter."--Alan Judd, The Spectator

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199238781
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/7/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James Griffin is White's Professor of Moral Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Oxford; Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University; and Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Canberra.

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Table of Contents


Introduction     1
An Account of Human Rights
Human Rights: The Incomplete Idea     9
The Enlightenment project on human rights     9
The indeterminateness of the term 'human right'     14
Remedies for the indeterminateness     18
Different approaches to explaining rights: substantive and structural accounts     20
A different kind of substantive account     22
How should we go about completing the idea?     27
First Steps in an Account of Human Rights     29
Top-down and bottom-up accounts     29
The human rights tradition     30
A proposal of a substantive account     32
One ground for human rights: personhood     33
A second ground: practicalities     37
Is there a third ground?: equality     39
How we should understand 'agency'?     44
In what sense are human rights 'universal'?     48
Do we need a more pluralist account?     51
When Human Rights Conflict     57
One of the central questions of ethics     57
Conflicts between human rights themselves     58
Are human rights co-possible?     60
Conflicts between a human right and other kinds of moral consideration     63
A proposal and a qualification     66
A step beyond intuition     76
Some ways in which human rights resist trade-offs     79
Reprise     81
Whose Rights?     83
The scope of the question     83
Potential agents     83
The inference from moral weight to human rights     86
Need accounts of human rights     88
A class of rights on their own?     90
A role for stipulation     91
Coming into rights in stages     94
My Rights: But Whose Duties?     96
Introduction     96
What duties?     97
Whose duties?     101
Primary and secondary duties     104
AIDS in Africa     105
Can there be rights without indentifiable duty-bearers?     107
The Metaphysics of Human Rights     111
Two models of value judgement     111
Human interests and the natural world     116
The test of the best explanation     121
The metaphysics of human rights     124
The Relativity and Ethnocentricity of Human Rights     129
Ethical relativity     129
The relativity of human rights      133
What is the problem of ethnocentricity?     137
Tolerance     142
Highest-Level Human Rights
Autonomy     149
The three highest-level human rights     149
The distinction between autonomy and liberty     149
The value of autonomy     151
The content of the right to autonomy     152
Autonomy and free will: what if we are not autonomous?     157
Liberty     159
Highest-level rights     159
Broad and narrow interpretations of liberty     159
'Pursuit'     160
Negative and positive sides of liberty     166
How demanding is the right?     167
Mill's 'one very simple principle' of liberty     169
Generalizing the results     174
Welfare     176
The historical growth of rights     176
Welfare: a civil, not a human, right?     177
A case for a human right to welfare     179
Is the proposed right too demanding?     182
The undeserving poor     184
Human rights, legal rights, and rights in the United Nations     186
Applications
Human Rights: Discrepancies Between Philosophy and International Law     191
Applications of the personhood account     191
Bringing philosophical theory and legal practice together     191
The list of human rights that emerges from the personhood account     192
Current legal lists: civil and political rights     193
Interlude on the aims and status of international law     202
Current legal lists: economic, social, and cultural rights     206
The future of international lists of human rights     209
A Right to Life, a Right to Death     212
The scope of the right to life     212
Locke on the scope of the right     213
Personhood as the ground of the right     215
From a right to life to a right to death     216
Is there a right to death?     221
Is it a positive or a negative right?     223
Privacy     225
Personhood and the content of a human right to privacy     225
Legal approaches to the right to privacy     227
How broad is the right?: (i) privacy of information, (ii) privacy of space and life, and (iii) the privacy of liberty     234
A proposal about the right to privacy     238
Privacy versus freedom of expression and the right to information     239
Do Human Rights Require Democracy?     242
Two plausible lines of thought     242
Autonomy and liberty     243
Democracy     243
Do human rights require democracy?     247
In modern conditions?     251
Group Rights     256
Three generations of rights     256
No quick way of dismissing group rights     256
A case for group rights: the good-based argument     258
Another case for group rights: the justice-based argument     265
Exclusion     271
Reduction     273
What is left?     275
Notes     277
Index     331
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