Three Human Rights Agendas

13 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2006 Last revised: 6 Sep 2017

See all articles by David A. Reidy

David A. Reidy

University of Tennessee - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: january 1, 2006


In this paper I distinguish between three conceptions of human rights and thus three human rights agendas. Each is compatible with the others, but distinguishing each from the others has important theoretical and practical advantages. The first conception concerns those human rights tied to natural duties binding all persons to one another independent of and prior to any institutional context and the violation of which would 'shock the conscience' of any morally competent person. The second concerns the institutional conditions necessary and sufficient for particularist legal and political obligations to take on prima facie moral force so that the members of different polities face one another in an asymmetric moral relationship, with each side having a rightful claim to political self-determination. The third concerns those human rights arising exclusively as a matter of positive international law out of the voluntary undertakings of legitimate polities within the international order. Each of these different conceptions is tied to a different human rights agenda. The second is tied to the struggle to realize recognitional norms of legitimacy within the international order. The third is tied to the ongoing effort to incorporate into positive international law through voluntary initiative an ever expanding moral consensus between legitimate polities. The first is tied to the emerging practice of humanitarian intervention and system of international criminal liability. Thus, while all human rights share certain features - they're universal, and so on - human rights differ in important ways. Attending to these differences would likely improve both the theory and practice of human rights.

Keywords: human rights, individualism, democracy, liberalism, collective self-determination

Suggested Citation

Reidy, David A., Three Human Rights Agendas (january 1, 2006). Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2006 . Available at SSRN:

David A. Reidy (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee - Department of Philosophy ( email )

801 McClung Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States
865 974 3255 (Phone)
865 974 3509 (Fax)


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