Towards a Concept of Human Rights: Inside and Outside Genealogy

27 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2011

See all articles by Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco

Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco

University of Birmingham - Birmingham Law School

Date Written: January 27, 2011


Raymond Geuss asserts that there are fragmented views on what human rights are and that there is no unifying principle underlying such notion. I think that this view has its merits. It conveys the particularity of our perspectives, attitudes, desires and self-understandings. It rejects abstractness and is committed to a thick, perspectivist, historical understanding of personhood. To understand who we are, is to understand how we arrive at being who we are. By contrast, the notion of human rights deploys abstractness, unification of agency, necessity and a thin view of personhood. In this paper, I attempt to bring into focus these two aspects of the notion of human rights. I will first analyse the genealogical method advocated by Geuss and argue that it has the merit of elucidating our historical contingencies; however, it is argued that any view in favour of the genealogical method relies on the idea that evaluative or normative concepts cannot be defined in terms of a common denominator. We reconstruct the Aristotelian idea of ‘focal meaning’ as core-resemblance and show that there is a unifying concept of human rights. We conclude that the perspectivist spirit of genealogy is not far from the Aristotelian tradition. Aristotle’s inquiry into a concept that could grasp different perspectives and contingencies as opposed to a Platonic understanding of abstract and universal forms shows that genealogical worries are germane to the tradition.

Keywords: Human Rights, Core-Resemblance, Raymond Geuss, Friedrich Nietzsche, Well-Being, Aristotle's Focal Meaning, Scepticism on Human Rights, Bernard Williams

Suggested Citation

Rodriguez-Blanco, Veronica, Towards a Concept of Human Rights: Inside and Outside Genealogy (January 27, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco (Contact Author)

University of Birmingham - Birmingham Law School ( email )

Birmingham, AL B15 2TT
United Kingdom

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