Human Rights, Human Dignity, and Power

In Rowan Cruft, Matthew Liao & Massimo Renzo (eds.), Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights. Oxford University Press. pp. 196-213 (2015)
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This paper explores the connections between human rights, human dignity, and power. The idea of human dignity is omnipresent in human rights discourse, but its meaning and point is not always clear. It is standardly used in two ways, to refer to a normative status of persons that makes their treatment in terms of human rights a proper response, and a social condition of persons in which their human rights are fulfilled. This paper pursues three tasks. First, it provides an analysis of the content and an interpretation of the role of the idea of human dignity in current human rights discourse. The interpretation includes a pluralist view of human interests and dignity that avoids a narrow focus on rational agency. Second, this paper characterizes the two aspects of human dignity in terms of capabilities. Certain general human capabilities are among the facts that ground status-dignity, and the presence of certain more specific capabilities constitutes condition-dignity. Finally, this paper explores how the pursuit of human rights and human dignity links to distributions and uses of power. Since capabilities are a form of power, and human rights are in part aimed at respecting and promoting capabilities, human rights involve empowerment. Exploring the connections between human rights, capabilities, and empowerment provides resources to defend controversial human rights such as the right to democratic political participation, and to respond to worries about the feasibility of their fulfillment. This paper also argues that empowerment must be coupled with solidaristic concern in order to respond to unavoidable facts of social dependency and vulnerability

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Pablo Gilabert
Concordia University


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