Rethinking Rights

Location

University of Dayton

Start Date

10-2-2015 2:15 PM

End Date

10-2-2015 3:45 PM

Abstract

Human rights scholars have recently seized on the concept of human dignity as a possible ground or justification for human rights. For various reasons, this is a mistake: it gets the role of dignity in human rights theory wrong, and it distorts our understanding of human rights politics. In this paper I develop the concept of indignation, arguing that it accounts for the place of dignity in human rights theory more accurately than do foundational approaches and that it provides useful insight into the actual dynamics of human rights movements. Specifically, I argue that human dignity is likely to prove as controversial and problematic as other candidate concepts for grounding human rights (such as autonomy or capabilities), mainly because, like those other concepts, it necessarily takes the form of an ideal theory.

I suggest that indignation might prove to be a more useful concept because it refers not to an ideal but rather to a feeling or perception of affront, denial, or violation that helps to explain (motivationally, concretely) what triggers human rights protests and movements. Indignation thus provides a useful analytic lens for gaining clarity on recent human rights movements and political uprisings around the world. I propose that greater empirical study of indignation in various contexts can do much more to promote our understanding of contemporary human rights theory and practice than might further philosophical reflection on abstract notions like dignity.

Comments

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Oct 2nd, 2:15 PM Oct 2nd, 3:45 PM

Indignation, or, Reconsidering the Place of Dignity in Human Rights Theory and Practice (abstract)

University of Dayton

Human rights scholars have recently seized on the concept of human dignity as a possible ground or justification for human rights. For various reasons, this is a mistake: it gets the role of dignity in human rights theory wrong, and it distorts our understanding of human rights politics. In this paper I develop the concept of indignation, arguing that it accounts for the place of dignity in human rights theory more accurately than do foundational approaches and that it provides useful insight into the actual dynamics of human rights movements. Specifically, I argue that human dignity is likely to prove as controversial and problematic as other candidate concepts for grounding human rights (such as autonomy or capabilities), mainly because, like those other concepts, it necessarily takes the form of an ideal theory.

I suggest that indignation might prove to be a more useful concept because it refers not to an ideal but rather to a feeling or perception of affront, denial, or violation that helps to explain (motivationally, concretely) what triggers human rights protests and movements. Indignation thus provides a useful analytic lens for gaining clarity on recent human rights movements and political uprisings around the world. I propose that greater empirical study of indignation in various contexts can do much more to promote our understanding of contemporary human rights theory and practice than might further philosophical reflection on abstract notions like dignity.