What is a 'Human Right'?
12 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2011 Last revised: 10 Mar 2020
Date Written: April 28, 2011
Talk about “rights” - “rights-talk” - is ubiquitous. However, as Lloyd Weinreb has observed: “Not the least of our difficulties when we think about rights is that, despite their ubiquity in our discourse, it is unclear just what a right is.” A clarification of rights-talk is therefore in order.
In our time, the principal rights-talk is about “human” rights. The principal question that engages me in this paper: In the context of human-rights-talk, what are we talking about when, today, we talk about “rights”? about “human” rights? about “international” human rights?
Other questions I address in this paper: When and where is a human right a *legal* right - in a meaningfully practical sense of legal? In what sense are human rights *moral* rights? Are so-called “moral” rights really rights?
This paper is a draft of a chapter of a book-in-progress: an introduction to, and overview of, the morality and law of international human rights. For a related paper (chapter), which I am posting to SSRN at the same time I am posting this paper, see “The Grounds of Human Rights”, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1824667.
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