Deriving human rights from human dignity: a novel political approach

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Much of the recent philosophical debate over human rights has focused on the question of whether or not human rights are primarily derived from philosophical foundations. I will be arguing that they are not, but via a route that might at first blush appear slightly counterintuitive: I will be arguing that human rights can and should be derived from human dignity. Why this seems counterintuitive is that it strongly suggests adherence to the foundationalist side of the debate, given that dignity is one of the moral concepts frequently pointed to by both philosophers and practitioners as grounding human rights. Why it nonetheless sits closer to the anti foundationalist side of the human rights debate is that dignity, insofar as it connects to human rights, itself turns out to be a social construct. Or so I shall argue. The structure of this chapter is as follows. In Section 1 I identify the relevant aspects of the debate, and extract three desiderata that I take a theory of human rights to have an obligation to meet. In Section 2 I sketch a novel conception of dignity, which is then unpacked in Sections 3 and 4 into two strands, which I call personal and social dignity. In Section 5 I argue in favour of one particular instance of social dignity – namely, human dignity – as grounding human rights. I conclude in Section 6 by showing how this leads to a hybrid foundational/political position that can fulfil the three desiderata identified in Section 1.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolitical and Legal Approaches to Human Rights
EditorsTom Campbell, Kylie Bourne
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781351717182, 9781351717175, 9781351717168, 9781315179711
ISBN (Print)9781138744585
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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