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.

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