Philosophy of Human Rights
The suggested length for each of the answers is approximately 300 words, although some of your answers may be longer, others a little shorter, depending on the question you are answering. This is open book (needless to say) and you may discuss the questions with others if you like. However, you must write your own answers. If two or more students present the same answer, word for word, for any question, both will receive zero for that question. Also, in your answers you must not simply copy material from the Ppt slides or readings; your answers must be written in your own words (except of course where you are quoting some other source)
List of Questions
Do you think that morality, right and wrong, is largely subjective, a matter of how people feel about acts, or is it possible to provide objective grounds for thinking that an act is right or wrong? How might human rights be relevant to this old issue in ethics? Support your view as best you can by argument.
What are the strongest reasons (discuss at least three) for thinking that human rights exist prior to and independently of any human-made laws? Do you think these reasons are ultimately persuasive? Support your view by argument.
In Reading 3, Jeremy Bentham describes the idea of natural rights embodied in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as “nonsense upon stilts”. Describe as clearly as you can what he means by this and why he thinks it is true.
How convincing is Bentham’s critique of natural rights, and, in particular, his view that there are no such things as natural rights, that is, rights that exist prior to and independently of any human-made laws?
Human rights are commonly described as “rights that we possess simply in virtue of being human – no other qualification is needed”. How adequate is this statement as an account of what human rights are? Explain and defend your answer in detail, noting, among other things perhaps, what is involved in providing a philosophical analysis of a concept.
Describe clearly what was referred to in class as the “minimal moral standards” account of human rights associated with the philosopher John Rawls (among others). Assess in detail how plausible the minimal moral standards theory is as an account of human rights? Support your assessment by argument.
Briefly, but clearly, describe what was referred to in class as the “basic needs” or “capabilities” approach to what human rights are. How does it differ from the minimal moral standards theory? Assess how plausible or accurate the basic needs approach is as an account of human rights.
Summarize social contract theory briefly but clearly, and then explain or describe the conception of HR that emerges from it? Discuss the main pros and cons of the social contract account of what human rights are.
Describe as clearly as you can the account of human rights referred to in the lectures as the “pragmatic approach”. Do you think it provides an adequate definition of human rights? Why or why not? (Do not be deterred from criticism by the fact that the Prof endorsed it.)
Describe briefly, but clearly, the utilitarian approach to the justification of human rights. Do you think utilitarianism could ultimately provide a convincing justification for the institution of human rights? Support your view by argument as best you can.
In Reading 8 John Hospers implies that human rights are self-evident and hence don’t stand in need of, and therefore cannot really be given, any justification. Do you agree? Why or why not?
What, in your view, is the most plausible approach to take in trying to justify human rights. (You may defend one of the approaches discussed in class, or you may defend some other approach.)
It has sometimes been said that human rights are really just a form of Western imperialism; that is, a way of illicitly trying to impose Western values on other cultures and societies? How plausible do you think this charge is? Support your assessment of it by argument.
Do you think cultural relativism or universalism about ethics and human rights provides a stronger basis for being tolerant of other cultures? Defend your view by argument.
Choose three different objections that have been, and still are, commonly raised against HR, describe them clearly, and then assess how convincing they are.