Human Rights, An Overview

Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology:908–915 (2014)
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Abstract

The discursive character of human rights prevents a precise summary of historical origin, rationale, or definition outside of the various codifications in religious texts, secular philosophies, founding national documents, and international treaties, charters, conventions, covenants, declarations, and protocols. Regarding the objects of human rights, we can speak of a “foundational five” 1) Personal security 2) Material subsistence 3) Elemental equality 4) Personal Freedom and 5) Recognition as a member of the human community. Despite, or perhaps because of its multivalence, the concept of human rights has been criticized as “foundationalist,” “essentialist,” or “ethnocentric”—its universalism being used as a weapon against itself by critics of cultural imperialism. Even the tolerance discourses so popular in critical theory, however, gain their normative force from the same basic notion of individual or group rights. Notwithstanding these rhetorical abuses, the concept of human rights has proved robust as a doctrine of equality owing to its openness to a pluralism of justifications grounding the basic “goods” agreed as necessary for human development.

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Abram Trosky
Boston University

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