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.

Suggested Citation

Perry, Michael John, What is a 'Human Right'? (April 28, 2011). Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-150, San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 11-055, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1824662 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1824662

Michael John Perry (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2086 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics