On Human Rights

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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: 9780199573103
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 390,679
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (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

Part I: An Account of Human Rights
I. Human Rights: The Incomplete Idea
II. First Steps in An Account of Human Rights
III. When Human Rights Conflict
IV. Whose Rights?
V. My Rights: But Whose Duties?
VI. The Metaphysics of Human Rights
VII. The Relativity and Ethnocentricity of Human Rights
Part II: Highest Level Human Rights
VIII. Autonomy
IX. Liberty
X. Welfare
Part III: Applications
XI. Discrepanices Between the Best Philosophical Account of Human Rights and the International Law of Human Rights
XII. A Right to Life, A Right to Death
XIII. Privacy
XIV. Do Human Rights Require Democracy?
XV. Group Rights

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