Chapter 2: Human Rights: Moral Authority and Philosophical Doubts
2. Human rights: moral authority and philosophical doubts ‘Virtually no one rejects the principle of defending human rights.’ No one, that is, except political philosophers. (Mendus 1995, p. 10, quoting Lukes) 2.1 INTRODUCTION Human rights have become the authoritative medium for making normative claims about the ways that human beings should and should not be treated, from what conditions should persist in prisons to what information about individuals should be kept by governments, via the extent to which physical coercion on the part of government security agents might be acceptable to the acceptable quality of environmental conditions in which individuals and communities live. In contrast to the confidence with which human rights are debated and claimed by politicians, diplomats, lawyers, activists, journalists, citizens, consumers and even companies, the discussion of human rights amongst political philosophers is marked by scepticism and doubt. A brief survey of the philosophical literature on human rights reveals uncertainty not only about what human rights there really are, but also about whether we have any human rights at all, and if we do, why we have them. Before looking at whether we can include environmental human rights in the list of human rights we might have, in this chapter I address the question of whether and why we might be said to have human rights at all. These questions matter, both generally and from an environmental point of view. Reasons for supporting human rights are important if we are to decide whether or not the idea...
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