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Inherent Human Rights

Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration

Johannes Morsink
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Inherent Human Rights
    Book Description:

    Confronting the evils of World War II and building on the legacy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a group of world citizens including Eleanor Roosevelt drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, the Universal Declaration has been translated into 300 languages and has become the basis for most other international human rights texts and norms. In spite of the global success of this document, however, a philosophical disconnect exists between what major theorists have said a human right is and the foundational text of the very movement they advocate. In Inherent Human Rights: Philosophical Roots of the Universal Declaration, philosopher and political theorist Johannes Morsink offers an alternative to contemporary assumptions. A major historian of the Universal Declaration, Morsink traces the philosophical roots of the Declaration back to the Enlightenment and to a shared revulsion at the horrors of the Holocaust. He defends the Declaration's perspective that all people have human rights simply by virtue of being born into the human family and that human beings have these rights regardless of any government or court action (or inaction). Like mathematical principles, human rights are truly universal, not the products of a particular culture, economic scheme, or political system. Our understanding of their existence can be blocked only by madness and false ideologies. Morsink argues that the drafters of the Declaration shared this metaphysical view of human rights. By denying the inherence of human rights and their metaphysical nature, and removing the concepts of the Declaration from their historical and philosophical context, contemporary constructivist scholars and pragmatic activists create an unnecessary and potentially dangerous political fog. The book carefully dissects various human rights models and ends with a defense of the Declaration's cosmopolitan vision against charges of unrealistic utopianism and Western ethnocentrism. Inherent Human Rights takes exception to the reigning view that the Golden Rule is the best defense of human rights. Instead, it calls for us to "follow the lead of the Declaration's drafters and liberate the idea of human rights from the realm of the political and the juridical, which is where contemporary theorists have imprisoned it."

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0285-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: The Need to Think Beyond the Political
    (pp. 1-16)

    During the sixty years since its adoption by the Third UN General Assembly in December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become a remarkable success story. When one buys the document in bulk from the UN it costs only seventy-five cents, measures four by five inches, and can be readily put in one’s hip pocket or purse. Yet within this little blue and white booklet one finds articulated the moral lingua franca of our age. This booklet has been the inspirational source for millions of persecuted and oppressed individuals around the world. It has been translated into even...

  4. Chapter 1 The Metaphysics of Inherence
    (pp. 17-54)

    Right in its opening clauses the Universal Declaration presents us with a very important philosophical challenge. There the drafters reach back to the eighteenth century and present us with what I shall refer to in this book as the doctrine of inherent human rights. This doctrine consists of two complementary theses about the universality of human rights, some key Enlightenment terms of which I have italicized in the citations that follow. The first universality thesis is a metaphysical one about the way the world is. It states that people everywhere and at all times have rights that are not man-made,...

  5. Chapter 2 Obeying the Conscience of Humanity
    (pp. 55-111)

    As I noted at the start of Chapter 1, the doctrine of inherent human rights has two parts to it, a metaphysical part that says that all human beings have these rights inherently by virtue of their humanity, and an epistemic or knowledge-based part that says that all human beings can come to know that this is so by virtue of their own natural epistemic (or knowledge) equipment. I devoted that first chapter to an exposition of the idea of inherence as the best way to capture the metaphysical universality that we found embedded in the opening clauses of the...

  6. Chapter 3 The Shortcomings of the Golden Rule
    (pp. 112-147)

    Having considered the route of conscience into the domain of human rights, we now embark on an investigation of the route of reason that is yoked with conscience in Article 1 of the Declaration. People are frequently torn between these two routes and experience a kind of moral schizophrenia. While their emotions tell them the horrors they witness or learn about are evil and must be stopped and absolutely forbidden, they feel awkward about defending that point of view in the court of reason. While their consciences support the epistemic half of the doctrine of inherence (that all people possess...

  7. Chapter 4 Human Rights Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 148-204)

    The phenomenon of globalization that we see all around us has economic, technological, and cultural aspects or strands, each of which can be made into the defining feature of a new cosmopolitanism. The cosmopolitanism of human rights differs from these others in that it looks at our world as one unified ethical community. While cosmopolitan theories generally stress either individual or institutional factors, the human rights kind includes both. It has in it the moral reach of an individualist vision that sees all the members of the human family as living in one “global ethical community.”¹ But it also includes...

  8. Chapter 5 The Charge of Unrealistic Utopianism
    (pp. 205-252)

    The cosmopolitanism of the preceding chapter is not without its critics. The very idea of looking at the entire human race as one big transhistorical and cross-cultural family—the members of which have inherent rights and correlative duties to take care of each other—is open to serious criticisms, if not outright ridicule. While it is true that since the end of World War II the human rights movement has made enormous progress and has been able to enlist in its various causes pretty much all nations of the world and millions of their inhabitants, there also is an enormous...

  9. Chapter 6 Human Rights and Democratic Participation
    (pp. 253-277)

    The Universal Declaration contains several types of human rights. There are the civil and political rights that dominate (but are not limited to) the first half of the document. And there are the social, economic and cultural ones that dominate (but are not limited to) the second half. In Chapter 5 we discussed the lack of usefulness of dividing the rights in the document into just these two large groupings. Between them these two main categories harbor at least five types of human rights: civil (like the right to marry), political (like the right to vote), social (like the right...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 278-302)
  11. Index
    (pp. 303-318)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-319)