On Human Rights

Paperback | September 25, 2009

byJames Griffin

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What is a human right? How can we tell whether a proposed human right really is one? How do we establish the content of particular human rights, and how do we resolve conflicts between them? These are pressing questions for philosophers, political theorists, jurisprudents, internationallawyers, and activists. James Griffin offers answers in his compelling new investigation of the foundations of human rights. First, On Human Rights traces the idea of a natural right from its origin in the late Middle Ages, when the rights were seen as deriving from natural laws, through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the original theological background was progressively dropped and 'natural law' emptiedof most of its original meaning. By the end of the Enlightenment, the term 'human rights' (droits de l'homme) appeared, marking the purge of the theological background. But the Enlightenment, in putting nothing in its place, left us with an unsatisfactory, incomplete idea of a human right. Griffin shows how the language of human rights has become debased. There are scarcely any accepted criteria, either in the academic or the public sphere, for correct use of the term. He takes on the task of showing the way towards a determinate concept of human rights, based on their relation to thehuman status that we all share. He works from certain paradigm cases, such as freedom of expression and freedom of worship, to more disputed cases such as welfare rights - for instance the idea of a human right to health. His goal is a substantive account of human rights - an account with enoughcontent to tell us whether proposed rights really are rights. Griffin emphasizes the practical as well as theoretical urgency of this goal: as the United Nations recognized in 1948 with its Universal Declaration, the idea of human rights has considerable power to improve the lot of humanity aroundthe world. We can't do without the idea of human rights, and we need to get clear about it. It is our job now - the job of this book - to influence and develop the unsettled discourse of human rights so as to complete the incomplete idea.

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What is a human right? How can we tell whether a proposed human right really is one? How do we establish the content of particular human rights, and how do we resolve conflicts between them? These are pressing questions for philosophers, political theorists, jurisprudents, internationallawyers, and activists. James Griffin offers answe...

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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Format:PaperbackDimensions:360 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.01 inPublished:September 25, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199573107

ISBN - 13:9780199573103

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I: An Account of Human Rights1. Human Rights: The Incomplete Idea2. First Steps in An Account of Human Rights3. When Human Rights Conflict4. Whose Rights?5. My Rights: But Whose Duties?6. The Metaphysics of Human Rights7. The Relativity and Ethnocentricity of Human RightsPart II: Highest Level Human Rights8. Autonomy9. Liberty10. WelfarePart III: Applications11. Discrepanices Between the Best Philosophical Account of Human Rights and the International Law of Human Rights12. A Right to Life, A Right to Death13. Privacy14. Do Human Rights Require Democracy?15. Group Rights

Editorial Reviews

"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 workof 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 makes philosophy matter." --Alan Judd, The Spectator