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A System of Rights$
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Rex Martin

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198292937

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198292937.001.0001

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Human Rights

Human Rights

Chapter:
(p.73) 4 Human Rights
Source:
A System of Rights
Author(s):

Rex Martin (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0198292937.003.0005

The chapter first discusses the different ways in which human rights are moral rights. The notion of valid claims (initially discussed in Ch. 2) has more purchase as an account of human rights; for one thing it provides a clear sense to what one means in saying that a human right is a moral right: one means that the right follows from, or comports with, accredited normative moral principles or with accredited procedures for moral reasoning. Nonetheless, three points are raised in challenge to the idea that human rights are essentially morally valid claims: (1) a valid claim can be normatively sound as regards its justification, but without widespread acknowledgement or affirmation, it won’t function as an effective right; (2) what the right requires must be conformed to by second parties, the duty holders—otherwise it’ll be at best a merely nominal right; (3) it isdesirable for ‘rights’ to have the same sense when we talk either about human rights or about legal rights.

The really controversial part of the chapter is the claim that human rights hold principally against organized societies (and their governments); the job of governments here is to respond to these moral demands by formulating what is being demanded as civil rights, rights of all persons in that society, and then by enforcing these rights. A putative right that lacked these things would slip back into being a merely valid moral claim; thus, full‐bodied human rights are ways of acting or ways of being treated that have sound normative justification, that have authoritative political recognition or endorsement, and that are maintained by conforming conduct and, where need be, by governmental enforcement.

Keywords:   civil rights, enforcement, governments, human rights, justification, moral rights, nominal rights, organized societies, political recognition, valid claims

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