On Human Rights
The term 'natural right', in its modern sense of an entitlement that a person has, first appeared in the late Middle Ages. When during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the theological content of the idea was abandoned in stages, nothing was put in its place. The secularized notion that we were left with at the end of the Enlightenment is still our notion today: a right that we have simply in virtue of being human. During the twentieth century international law has contributed
to settling the question which rights are human rights, but its contribution has its limits.
The notion of a human right that we have inherited suffers from no small indeterminateness of sense. The term has been left with so few criteria for determining when it is used correctly that we often have a plainly inadequate grasp on what is at issue. Griffin takes on the task of showing the way towards a determinate concept of human rights, based on their relation to the human status that we all share. He works from certain paradigm cases, such as freedom of expression and freedom of
worship, to more disputed cases such as welfare right - for instance the idea of a human right to health. His goal is a substantive account of human rights - an account with enough content to tell us whether proposed rights really are rights. Griffin emphasizes the practical as well as theoretical urgency
of this goal: as the United Nations recognized in 1948 with its Universal Declaration, the idea of human rights has considerable power to improve the lot of humanity around the world.
It is our job now - the job of this book - to influence and develop the unsettled discourse of human rights so as to complete the incomplete idea. - ;James Griffin's new book is a singular contribution to the philosophy of human rights. In it he defends his own well-thought-out account with great subtlety and ingenuity, but the exposition of his account and the discussion of the important issues are so nicely structured and so clear and well-informed that the book could clearly be used as a text in an undergraduate course... At the same time, Griffin's exposition of his view is so subtle and nuanced and the arguments so careful
and cogent that the book is an essential work for specialists in the field... his book shows that philosophers have an important contribution to make to the conceptual and moral issues that are at the heart of much ongoing discourse on the nature and content of human rights. - William J. Talbott, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews;A fresh and timely look at the whole field of human rights. - Patricia Allen Northern Echo;James Griffin...modestly sees his book as an early contribution to a theoretical critique of modern interpretations of rights, but it is more significant than that. Academic, intellectually demanding, clearly written and rigorously thought through...This is not a polemic but an important work of scholarly philosophy, one that may lead to a fundamental reappraisal of something that impinges ever more closely upon us. It is also one of those book that makes philosophy
matter. - Alan Judd, The Spectator;A fresh and timely look at the whole field of human rights...Griffin adroitly picks his way through this judicial and moral minefield in which a person's perception of a "human right" can be condemned as a crime by someone of a different political or religious background. - Patricia Allen, Northern Echo
354 pages; ISBN 9780191553509
Title: On Human Rights
Author: James Griffin
The Critique of Pure Reason 2009 US$ 3.95 935 pages
The Birth of Biopolitics 2008 US$ 20.00 365 pages