The Philosophy of Human Rights

My article ‘Theoretical Foundations for Human Rights’ has just been published in the latest issue of Political Studies. In this article I argue for a deflationist approach to human rights, with the help of David Hume. I plan to do more work on Hume and human rights by writing my next article on ‘Humean Rights’. An early version of this was presented at the ASPP conference in Rome in June.

This article explores an alternative to the established dichotomy between philosophical (natural law) accounts of human rights, characterized by a foundationalist tendency, and political (practice-based) accounts of human rights, which aspire to be non-foundationalist. I argue that in order to justify human rights practice, political accounts of human rights cannot do without the support of theoretical foundations, although not necessarily of the natural-law variety. As an alternative to natural-law metaphysics, a deflationary theory of human rights, based on a deflationary account of truth, is put forward. Starting from a distinction between ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ forms of deflationism, this article defends a constructivist theory of human rights grounded on the Humean notion of conventionalism. This innovative approach to human rights provides political conceptions of human rights with the foundations (or quasi-foundations) they need, but are currently lacking.

More on the Referendum

The referendum on the 8th amendment is a serious blow to ingrained structural injustice in Ireland, but more work needs to be done. With the help of Iris Marion Young’s famous analysis of structural injustice, in this piece published in RTE Brainstorm I argue that apart from changing specific laws, it is also necessary to change the culture that legitimizes the laws. The inadequate separation of Church and State in Ireland when it comes to schools and education is something that needs to be changed.


Populism is a serious threat to modern liberal democracy: it must be understood, and resisted. In this piece I argue that populism has a very long history, and we can learn about populism today by analyzing populism in Ancient Rome. In particular, contrary to what is generally assumed, I argue that populism is not always a bottom-up movement, the voice of the excluded masses. Instead, populism is often a top-down phenomenon, orchestrated by someone emerging from the elite class itself.


The Abortion Referendum

The Irish referendum of Friday May 25th was an historic moment. The 8th amendment of the constitution was repealed, and as a result abortion will be legal in Ireland. In this article from the Irish Times I try to argue that this debate is not about ‘pro-life’ vs. ‘pro-choice’, since everyone is ‘pro-life’. Furthermore, those who don’t want abortion to be legalized wrongly assmue that the foetus enjoys an absolute right to life. This article is an attempt to pull the rug from under the feet of those who were against repealing the 8th amendment.

Eighth Amendment campaign: the debate about abortion is often toxic. No issue is as divisive or as complex. Photograph: Artur Widak/AFP/Getty

The foetus does not have an absolute right to life

  • Irish Times, May 22, 2018, 10:34