Human Rights: A Plea for Taking the Law and Institutions Seriously

| December 14, 2016
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I am fortunate to have such a distinguished, analytically astute, and fair-minded group of thinkers as contributors to a symposium on my recent book, The Heart of Human Rights. It was once said of Hegel that he was like a man who had built a magnificent mansion and thereafter lived a life of servitude as the handyman tasked with maintaining and repairing the structure. It would be a bit grand to characterize my book as anything like a mansion, but, nonetheless, I want to make clear that I reject the role of trying to patch it up and protect it against assaults by critics. To do so would be to forget that the important thing is not to have been right, but to be right. Further, my main goal in writing the book was to try to get philosophers to address some fundamental issues concerning moral and legal human rights that they have so far neglected—in particular, the justification (or lack thereof) of the international legal human rights system and the relationship between moral and legal rights (which they have avoided by using the term “human rights” without distinguishing between legal and moral human rights, as if everything that is true of the one is true of the other). Thus, in the space allotted to me here, instead of trying to defend the book against all comers, I will pursue a more modest aim: I will briefly summarize a few of what I believe to be the most important contributions of the book. In doing so, I will also respond to some of the interesting points made by each of the contributors to the symposium, without pretending to have “answered” them in a comprehensive fashion.

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Category: Book Symposium: The Heart of Human Rights, International Law and Human Rights, Issue 30.4

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