Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings
Chapter 1: The basis and scope of human rights
INTRODUCTION Chapter 1 delineates the basis and scope of human rights through the analysis of a misunderstanding. More often assumed than stated, this misunderstanding attributes too much to human rights as a consequence of perceiving the doctrine as a fully comprehensive morality for human life. This misunderstanding serves to blur the important distinction between human rights and social privileges; that is to say goods which are essential to human life and agency and those which may be objects of desire for some but are certainly not constitutive of human agency per se. Misconceiving the basis and the legitimate scope of human rights has, at times, undermined the doctrine’s legitimacy in the eyes of some. The human rights ‘inflationism’ which typically accompanies this misunderstanding is damaging to the doctrine in multiple ways. Thus, it runs the very real risk of trivialising human rights demands by over-extending their scope to cover what are widely considered to be mere social privileges. Similarly, it obscures the all-important issue of desert in the enjoyment of human rights, in so far as privileges are typically understood as entailing some reward process, which is absent from the grounds for possessing a human right. Most importantly of all, it serves to obscure the moral imperative for human rights and the very point of their existence in the first place. This chapter focuses, then, primarily upon the distinction between human rights and social privileges. This entails a return to a consideration of the two foundational questions of human rights:...
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