Human Rights, Claimability and the Uses of Abstraction

Utilitas 25 (4):463-486 (2013)
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Abstract
This article addresses the so-called to human rights. Focusing specifically on the work of Onora O'Neill, the article challenges two important aspects of her version of this objection. First: its narrowness. O'Neill understands the claimability of a right to depend on the identification of its duty-bearers. But there is good reason to think that the claimability of a right depends on more than just that, which makes abstract (and not welfare) rights the most natural target of her objection (section II). After examining whether we might address this reformulated version of O'Neill's objection by appealing to the specificity afforded to human rights in international, regional and domestic law (in section III), the article challenges a second important feature of that objection by raising doubts about whether claimability is a necessary feature of rights at all (section IV). Finally, the article reflects more generally on the role of abstraction in the theory and practice of human rights (section V). In sum, by allaying claimability-based concerns about abstract rights, and by illustrating some of the positive functions of abstraction in rights discourse, the article hopes to show that abstract rights are not only theoretically coherent but also useful and important
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2013
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First archival date: 2012-10-08
Latest version: 2 (2013-06-06)
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2012-08-21

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