RIGHTS: A moral or legal entitlements to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Human rights are norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to education.

MORAL GUARANTEES: Human rights have been defined as basic moral guarantees that people in all countries and cultures allegedly have simply because they are people. Calling these guarantees “rights” suggests that they attach to particular individuals who can invoke them, that they are of high priority, and that compliance with them is mandatory rather than discretionary. Human rights are frequently held to be universal in the sense that all people have and should enjoy them, and to be independent in the sense that they exist and are available as standards of justification and criticism whether or not they are recognized and implemented by the legal system or officials of a country (Nickel, James. Making Sense of Human Rights: Philosophical Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (Berkeley; University of California Press, 1987). The moral doctrine of human rights aims at identifying the fundamental prerequisites for each human being leading a minimally good life. Human rights aim to identify both the necessary negative and positive prerequisites for leading a minimally good life, such as rights against torture and rights to health care. This aspiration has been enshrined in various declarations and legal conventions issued during the past fifty years, initiated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and perpetuated by, most importantly, the European Convention on Human Rights (1954) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (1966). Together these three documents form the centrepiece of a moral doctrine that many consider to be capable of providing the contemporary geo-political order with what amounts to an international bill of rights…As James Nickel states, human rights aim to secure for individuals the necessary conditions for leading a minimally good life. Public authorities, both national and international, are identified as typically best placed to secure these conditions and so, the doctrine of human rights has become, for many, a first port of moral call for determining the basic moral guarantees all of us have a right to expect, both of one another but also, primarily, of those national and international institutions capable of directly affecting our most important interests. The doctrine of human rights aspires to provide the contemporary, allegedly post-ideological, geo-political order with a common framework for determining the basic economic, political, and social conditions required for all individuals to lead a minimally good life…An underlying aspiration of the doctrine of human rights is to provide a set of legitimate criteria to which all nation-states should adhere…The doctrine of human rights rests upon a particularly fundamental philosophical claim: that there exists a rationally identifiable moral order, an order whose legitimacy precedes contingent social and historical conditions and applies to all human beings everywhere and at all times…The origins and development of the theory of human rights is inextricably tied to the development of moral universalism…Human rights rest upon moral universalism and the belief in the existence of a truly universal moral community comprising all human beings. Moral universalism posits the existence of rationally identifiable trans-cultural and trans-historical moral truths. The origins of moral universalism within Europe are typically associated with the writings of Aristotle and the Stoics. Thus, in his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle unambiguously expounds an argument in support of the existence of a natural moral order…While the full significance of human rights may only be finally dawning on some people, the concept itself has a history spanning over two thousand years…The distinction drawn between moral rights and legal rights as two separate categories of rights is of fundamental importance to understanding the basis and potential application of human rights. Legal rights refer to all those rights found within existing legal codes…The legitimacy claims of human rights are tied to their status as moral rights. The practical efficacy of human rights is, however, largely dependent upon their developing into legal rights…Philosophical supporters of human rights are necessarily committed to a form of moral universalism. As moral principles and as a moral doctrine, human rights are considered to be universally valid. However, moral universalism has long been subject to criticism by so-called moral relativists. Moral relativists argue that universally valid moral truths do not exist…Human rights have a long historical heritage. The principal philosophical foundation of human rights is a belief in the existence of a form of justice valid for all peoples, everywhere. In this form, the contemporary doctrine of human rights has come to occupy centre stage in geo-political affairs. The language of human rights is understood and utilized by many peoples in very diverse circumstances. Human rights have become indispensable to the contemporary understanding of how human beings should be treated, by one another and by national and international political bodies. Human rights are best thought of as potential moral guarantees for each human being to lead a minimally good life. The extent to which this aspiration has not been realized represents a gross failure by the contemporary world to institute a morally compelling order based upon human rights. Andrew Fagan, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The doctrine of human rights rests upon a particularly fundamental, everywhere and at all times.


The expression human rights is relatively new, having come into everyday parlance only since World War II, the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It replaced the phrase natural rights, which fell into disfavor in the 19th century in part because the concept of natural law (to which it was intimately linked) had become controversial with the rise of legal positivism. Legal positivism rejected the theory, long espoused by the Roman Catholic Church, that law must be moral to be law. The term human rights also replaced the later phrase the rights of Man, which was not universally understood to include the rights of women. Burns H. Weston,


Instead of turning to history to monumentalize human rights by rooting them deep in the past, it is much better to acknowledge how recent and contingent they really are. Above all, it is crucial to link the emergence of human rights to the history of utopianism—the heartfelt desire to make the world a better place. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia, Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 225.


When embarking on a history of human rights, the first question one confronts is where does that history begin?...Current notions of morality cannot be associated solely with European history. Modern ethics is in fact indebted to a worldwide spectrum of both secular and religious traditions…From Hammurabi’s Code to the New Testament to the Quran, one can identify a common disdain toward indentured servants (or slaves), women, and homosexuals—all were excluded from equal social benefits. While emphasizing a universal moral embrace, all great civilizations have thus tended to rationalize unequal entitlements for the weak or the “inferior.” Yet while such similarities are noteworthy, they should not overshadow one of history’s most consequential realities: it has been the influence of the West, including the influence of the Western concept of universal rights, that has prevailed. Micheline R. Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era; University of California Press, 2004, Pp. 6 – 7.


Human Rights texts have been negotiated and adopted at the national and international levels. These texts have a certain moral force…But the promise of human rights remains unfulfilled around the world. Daily reports of violent abuse, injustice, and the denial of basic subsistence rights leave no room to doubt that we live in a world of human rights violations. Anthony Clapham, Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 161