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Three Conceptions of Human Rights

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475 sider
ISBN 978 87 87564 60 1



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This study argues that we cannot reasonably keep on speaking as though there is only one conception of human rights. The consensus around certain core rights, though important, hides the fact that very different moral sensibilities are at work. The American and French declarations from the 18th century originate in a very different moral sensibility than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. Their conceptions of humanity and its moral destiny are totally different. The former emphasize liberty while the latter emphasize human flourishing. The former enforces basic rules of mutual respect and leaves the rest to the individual's own choice, while the latter conceives human life as basically moral prescribing an ideal of human perfection. A third and very common ceonception today conceives human rights as a basic standard of human decency, which does not exclude other moral considerations. A basic regime of human rights leaves room for local choises in favour of liberty, human flourishing or something else, but no particular declaration seems to correspond to the view. This third view seems to be of a recent date and its theoretical foundation is such that it cannot claim any of the other declarations as its ancestors though it might be a "mutation" or misunderstanding of the classical 18th century declarations. A major part of this study traces the origin of the conception of rights behind the classical declarations, notably the Virginia declaration of 1776 and the French declaration of 1789. This conception will be contrasted with a perfectionist conception of morality, which only furnished itself with a conception of human rights very late. The third conception will be examined in the last chapter.



Préface 9


Thèses and Discussion

A Short Terminological History

The Main Argument

Arguments for Greek and Roman or Earlier Sources

Arguments for Medieval and Modem Sources


Liberty and Freedom

Chapter 1

Analytical Concepts

Principles of Action,Decision-Procedures and Prescriptions

Act-Prescriptions and Action Hieory

Principles of Action and the "Accoidion-Effect"

Normative Orders and the Distinction between Strict and Loose Duties

Permissive and Moralizing Normative Orders

The Free Space

Political Monism and Pluralism

Human Rights and Moral Theory


Chapter 2

General Approach

Context and Reason

Continuity and Ruptures: General Outline


Chapter 3

Moral Philosophy in Antiquity

Philosophical Life in Antiquiry

Moralizing Eudaimonisni

Stoic Moral Philosophy

The Ciceronian Position

Inflexible Universal Art-Prescriptions



Chapter 4

Christian Moral Pirilosophy

Mosaic and Early Christian Moral Thinking

Clement of Alexandria

Eusebius of Caesarea

Ambrose of Milan

Augustine of Hippo

The First Schoolmen

Canon Lawyers of the 12th Century


Chapter 5

Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas

Proportionalist Interpretation

Officiai Interpretation

Strict and Loose Duties

Indifferent Acts





Chapter 6

William of Ockham

Duns Scotus and Ockham

The Natural Good and the Moral Good

Right Reason and Prudence

Natural Law

Permissive Rights

Strict and Loose Duties

Consent and Common Utility

Ockham and Marsilius of Padua

Nominalism and Politics

Ockham and Thomas Aquinas


Chapter 7

From William of Ockham to Francisco Suarez

Pierre d'Ailly

Jean Gerson

John Mair

Jacques Almain

Revival of Thomism

Francisco Suarez



Chapter 8

Protestant Natural Law

Martin Luther

Hugo Grotius

Samuel von Pufendorf

Pufendorf and Richard Cumberland


Chapter 9

John Locke

Two Tracts on Govemment

Essays on Natural Law

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Writings on Toleration and Government

Locke and Richard Hooker

Locke and Thomas Hobbes



Chapter 10

The American and French Declarations of Rights

The American Declarations

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

The Origin of the French Declaration of the Rights ofMan and the Citizen

The Proceedings of the National Assembly

Chapter 11

Early Critique of the Declaration of Rights

Nonsense upon Stilts

Sophistical Rights of Man

The Rights of Egoistic Man

General Conclusion: Two Conceptions of Man and Morality

Chapter 12

  Immanuel Kant and Modem Moral Philosophy

Kant's Early Theory of Moral Philosophy

The Formula of Universal Law

The Formula of Humanity

Autonomy and the Kingdom of Ends

The Highest Good

Modem Moral Philosophy



Human Rights Today

Three Conceptions of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Islamic Human Rights

Confucian Virtue Ethics

Pluralist Conceptions



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