Human Rights: Theory and Practice

Term: Fall 2012

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6435

Human rights are omnipresent in contemporary political rhetoric. They are used to justify a variety of different policies, including armed intervention, political support for minorities, conditions on trade agreements provision of food and medical aid to starving populations. There is, however, a certain uneasiness about the appeal to human rights. Too often, the rhetoric of human rights politics looks like little more than a disguise for the exercise of imperial power (and Western imperial power at that). And when it comes to the point, no one is quite sure how we to justify the claim that humans (all humans? only humans?) have these rights. And what precise rights do all humans have? And if all humans do have certain basic rights, then who has the duty to secure these rights? What is the relationship between the concept of a human right and that of a crime against humanity? And how to we measure human rights against the claims of political sovereignty? In this course we will consider the most important attempts in recent years to answer these questions. Philosophers discussed will include Hannah Arendt, recent analytical philosophers (including John Rawls, Charles Beitz, James Griffin, Allen Buchanan), critical theorists (Jurgen Habermas, Rainer Forst), as well as critics of human rights (notably Slavoj Zizek). As far as possible, we will discuss questions about the justification of human rights through a number of contemporary political problems (e.g., the rights of refugees).

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