Human Rights

Allen Buchanan

in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780198295358
Published online April 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780191600982 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Political Theory

 Human Rights

Show Summary Details


The purpose of this chapter is to articulate an understanding of basic human rights that is sufficiently clear and cogent to serve as the core of a justice‐based moral theory of international law. To accomplish this goal, the concept of human rights is first analysed into its key elements, and the analysis is used to explain how assertions about human rights can be justified, and show that plausible justifications for basic human rights can be grounded in a diversity of moral and religious perspectives. Next, several objections to the claim that there are human rights or that they can play a fundamental role in a moral theory of international law are refuted, and it is argued that the right to minimally democratic governance should be included among the rights that international law ascribes to all persons—whether it is a human right or of instrumental value in securing human rights, or both. It is then shown that the use of coercion to protect basic human rights is compatible with a proper tolerance for the diversity of values, and the chapter concludes with a discussion of how the international legal order can cope with the ineliminable abstractness of human rights norms. The seven parts of the chapter are: I. Clarifying the Idea of Human Rights; II. The Justification of Assertions about the Existence of Human Rights; III. A Plurality of Converging Justifications for Human Rights; IV. Is democracy a Human Right?; V. Critiques of Human Rights; VI. Human Rights and the Bounds of Toleration; and VII. The Inelimable Indeterminacy of Human Rights and its Implications for the Moral Theory of International Law.

Keywords: coercion; democratic governance; diversity of values; Existence of Human Rights; human rights; human rights norms; Indeterminacy; international law; international legal order; justice; moral theory; tolerance

Chapter.  27980 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.