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The Psychological Foundations of Human Rights

Robin Bradley Kar

University of Illinois College of Law; University of Chicago

February 19, 2013

Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights (2013)

Respect for human rights requires engagement of a special capacity to identify and respond to rights, but current research on the psychological causes and conditions of human rights violations has proceeded without a clear enough understanding of the distinctive ways this psychological capacity functions. This article integrates contemporary insights from social and cognitive psychology with findings from a broader range of fields, including philosophy and evolutionary theory, to develop a contemporary account of this special capacity. The account suggests that processes of so-called “dehumanization” are not as fundamental to the generation of human rights violations as current research has suggested. Humans have an innate capacity to identify and respond to rights, but it needs support to produce stable perceptions of rights beyond one's in-group. Distinctive factors engage this capacity and can help orient it to support a more stable and universally shared form of respect for human rights in the modern world.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

Keywords: human rights, rights, psychology, moral psychology, universal moral grammar, in group, out group, dehumanization, international law, Mikhail, Chomsky, Rawls, social contract, cooperation, game theory, evolutionary psychology, justice, globalization, meta-ethics, internal point of view, Hart, Hohfeld

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Date posted: February 22, 2013 ; Last revised: June 2, 2016

Suggested Citation

Kar, Robin Bradley, The Psychological Foundations of Human Rights (February 19, 2013). Oxford Handbook of International Human Rights (2013) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2221149

Contact Information

Robin Bradley Kar (Contact Author)
University of Illinois College of Law ( email )
504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uiuc.edu/faculty-admin/directory/RobinKar

University of Chicago ( email )
1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
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