Title: How can we justify human rights?

Authors: Peter G. Kirchschlaeger

Addresses: Faculty of Theology, University of Lucerne, Frohburgstrasse 3, Postfach 4466, CH-6002 Lucerne, Switzerland

Abstract: Human rights form a political, legal, and moral consensus which appears to enjoy global acceptance. At the same time difficulties in implementing these rights and their claim to universality raise doubts about and attract criticism of the legitimacy of human rights. Such reactions are bolstered by the obligation to remain coherent with the core concept of the autonomy of the individual. Human rights therefore need a moral justification because autonomy requires justification of the reason why one's freedom should be restricted by human rights. These challenges lead to the question of how human rights can be justified. My paper will start by discussing some attempts to justify human rights. Based on this, the necessary characteristics of a justification of human rights will be analysed. A model of justification of human rights which is based on the principle of vulnerability will then be introduced. This approach to justifying human rights will then be applied with a specific human right - the right to own property. The paper will then explore the concept of adaptation supporting the discourse about the justification of human rights. Finally, some closing remarks will try to identify the added value of this approach for justifying human rights.

Keywords: human rights justification; universality; principle of vulnerability; adaptation; moral justification; right to own property.

DOI: 10.1504/IJHRCS.2016.081069

International Journal of Human Rights and Constitutional Studies, 2016 Vol.4 No.4, pp.313 - 329

Received: 25 Aug 2016
Accepted: 26 Aug 2016

Published online: 14 Dec 2016 *

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