The Ethics Of Human Rights Essay

The Ethics Of Human Rights Essay

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To a great extent, the theory of personhood rests on a breaking down and clarification of what it is to be an agent. Human rights, as understood by Griffin, are protections of our status as functional human agents, grounded in our interests in autonomy, liberty and the minimum material provision requisite to make the exercise of our agency real and possible. Griffin acknowledges that the human interests in autonomy and liberty are not the only important interests that exist, but it is the protection of these particular interests that generate a human right . In this sense, autonomy and liberty are the special, determinant grounding elements identified by Griffin as the interests required for normative agency.

Inbuilt in the nature of the personhood theory, therefore, is to restrict any other human interest or value in grounding human rights. This raises the question, why is personhood any more determinant than any other concept or human interest. This question becomes all the more pertinent when we apply the personhood account to human rights recognised in contemporary human rights culture.

Take the issue of torture, for example. The personhood theory’s justification for torture rests on the basis that it impacts ones capacity to decide, and stick to a decision . Whilst certainly justifiable on such grounds, the personhood lens warps our understanding of rights, promoting unnatural, and therefore arguably less secure, reasoning in justifying them. A more pluralist perspective would recognise that the our interest in avoidance of severe pain would ground the right to be free from torture via much more natural reasoning . Furthermore, if our interest in forming trusting relationships was recognised as a grounding interest it ...


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... grounding of human right we return to the question of why the interest of liberty and autonomy are any more pertinent to the human condition than any other interest.

I would argue that they are not.

Griffin may reason that anyone who is interested in making the term human rights part of serious morality must, in some form or another, make an attempt at giving the term a sufficiently determinant sense, and that the pluralist account fails to do this by not illustrating a manner by which to identify what interests are human rights , but I would reason that this is a misguided focus. As both an interest account and a normative agency account are restricted by further grounds or thresholds in generating a right, it makes little sense to build in a further restriction, especially one that require unnatural reasoning and a skewed perspective on the human condition.

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