Explanation Of Human Rights

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This section attempts to explain the generic idea of human rights by identifying four defining features. The goal is to answer the question of what human rights are with a general description of the concept rather than a list of specific rights. Two people can have the same general idea of human rights even though they disagree about which rights belong on a list of such rights and even about whether universal moral rights exist. This four-part explanation attempts to cover all kinds of human rights including both moral and legal human rights and both old and new human rights (e.g., both Lockean natural rights and contemporary international human rights). The explanation anticipates, however, that particular kinds of human rights will have…show more content…
Maurice Cranston held that human rights are matters of “paramount importance” and their violation “a grave affront to justice” (Cranston 1967). If human rights did not have high priority they would not have the ability to compete with other powerful considerations such as national stability and security, individual and national self-determination, and national and global prosperity. High priority does not mean, however, that human rights are absolute. As James Griffin says, human rights should be understood as “resistant to trade-offs, but not too resistant” (Griffin 2008). Further, there seems to be priority variation within human rights. For example, when the right to life conflicts with the right to privacy, the latter will generally be outweighed.

Let 's now consider five other features or functions that might be added.

Should human rights be defined as inalienable? Inalienability does not mean that rights are absolute or can never be overridden by other considerations. Rather it means that its holder cannot lose it temporarily or permanently by bad conduct or by voluntarily giving it up. It is doubtful that all human rights are inalienable in this sense. One who endorses both human rights and imprisonment as punishment for serious crimes must hold that people 's rights to freedom of movement can be forfeited temporarily or permanently by just convictions of serious crimes. Perhaps it is sufficient to say that human rights are very
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Philosophers coming to human rights theory from ethics sometimes assume that human rights must be, at bottom, moral rather than legal rights. There is no contradiction, however, in people saying that they believe in human rights, but only when they are legal rights at the national or international levels. As Louis Henkin observed, “Political forces have mooted the principal philosophical objections, bridging the chasm between natural and positive law by converting natural human rights into positive legal rights” (Henkin 1978). Theorists who insist that the only human rights are legal rights may find, however, that the interpretations they can give of characteristics such as the universality of human rights and of their independent existence are fairly
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