Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of Human Rights: A False Polemic?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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What are human rights? According to one longstanding account, the Naturalistic Conception of human rights, human rights are those that we have simply in virtue of being human. In recent years, however, a new and purportedly alternative conception of human rights has become increasingly popular. This is the so-called Political Conception of human rights, the proponents of which include John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz. In this paper we argue for three claims. First, we demonstrate that Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights can accommodate two of the most salient concerns that proponents of the Political Conception have raised about them. Second, we argue that the theoretical distance between Naturalistic and Political Conceptions is not as great as it has been made out to be. Finally, we argue that a Political Conception of human rights, on its own, lacks the resources necessary to determine the substantive content of human rights. If we are right, not only should the Naturalistic Conception not be rejected, the Political Conception is in fact incomplete without the theoretical resources that a Naturalistic Conception characteristically provides. These three claims, in tandem, provide a fresh and largely conciliatory perspective on the ongoing debate between proponents of Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights.

Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of Human Rights: A False Polemic?

in Journal of Moral Philosophy

Sections

References

1

A. John Simmons‘Human Rights and World Citizenship: The Universality of Human Rights in Kant and Locke,’ in Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001) p. 185.

2

Charles BeitzThe Idea of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press2009). What we are calling the Naturalistic Conception has also been called the “orthodox” view (Charles Beitz 'Human Rights and the Law of Peoples' in The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy ed. Deen Chatterjee (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004); John Tasioulas 'Taking Rights out of Human Rights' Ethics 120 (2010)); and the “traditionalist” account (Joseph Raz 'Human Rights without Foundations' in The Philosophy of International Law ed. Samantha Besson and John Tasioulas (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010a)).

3

John RawlsThe Law of Peoples: With “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (Harvard: Harvard University Press1999).

4

Beitz 2009op. cit.; Raz 2010a op. cit.

5

Beitz 2004p. 197.

6

Beitz 2004p. 198.

7

Raz 2010ap. 324.

8

Rawls 1999p. 79.

9

Rawls 1999p. 80.

10

Rawls 1999p. 68.

11

Rawls 1999p. 81.

12

Raz 2010ap. 328.

13

Raz 2010ap. 329.

14

Raz 2010app. 330-332.

15

Beitz 2009p. 101.

16

Rawls 1999p. 81.

17

Rawls 1999pp. 3-4.

18

Rawls 1999pp. 71-78.

19

Rawls 1999p. 68.

20

Rawls 1999p. 74.

21

Rawls 1999pp. 59-60.

22

Rawls 1999p. 68.

23

Rawls 1999p. 55.

24

Rawls 1999p. 37.

25

Beitz 2009pp. 99-100.

26

Beitz 2004p. 202; Beitz 2009 p. 72.

27

Beitz 2004p. 198; Beitz 2009 p. 57.

29

Beitz 2009p. 57.

30

Beitz 2009pp. 56-57.

31

Raz 2010bp. 41.

32

Raz 2010ap. 334.

33

James GriffinOn Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press2008) p. 25.

34

 See e.g. S. Matthew Liao‘Agency and Human Rights,’ Journal of Applied Philosophy 27 no. 1 (2010); John Tasioulas ‘Human Rights Universality and the Values of Personhood: Retracing Griffin’s Steps’ European Journal of Philosophy 10 no. 1 (2002).

36

Griffin 2008p. 50.

37

Tasioulas 2010p. 671.

38

Tasioulas 2010p. 672.

39

Tasioulas 2010p. 672.

41

Griffin 2008p. 50. See also Pablo Gilabert 'Humanist and Political Perspectives on Human Rights' Political Theory 39 (2011).

42

Griffin 2008p. 50.

44

Tasioulas 2010pp. 670-671.

45

Tasioulas 2010p. 670.

46

Tasioulas 2010p. 671.

47

Tasioulas 2010p. 671.

48

Tasioulas 2010p. 671.

50

Raz 2010ap. 335.

51

Raz 2010ap. 335.

53

Beitz 2009pp. 55-56.

54

Beitz 2009p. 56.

55

Tasioulas 2010p. 648.

56

 See e.g. Liao 2010op. cit.

57

M. CranstonWhat Are Human Rights? (London: Bodley Head1973) p. 69.

60

Beitz 2009p. 109.

61

Raz 2010ap. 329.

63

 See Griffin 2008.

64

Beitz 2009p. 109.

65

Beitz 2009pp. 105-106.

66

Raz 2010ap. 336.

67

Rawls 1999p. 65.

68

Rawls 1999p. 80 n. 23.

69

Rawls 1999p. 65.

70

Raz 2010ap. 330.

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