Adamantia Pollis reviews Alan Gewirth’s Human Rights: Essays on Justification and Applications, published by University of Chicago Press (1982).
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Grounding human rights in human agency and autonomy has had strongadvocates in recent decades. In Human Rights: Essays onJustification and Application (1982) Alan Gewirth offered anagency-based justification for human rights. He argued that denyingthe value of successful agency and action is not an option for a humanbeing; having a life requires regarding the indispensable conditionsof agency and action as necessary goods. Abstractly described, theseconditions of successful agency are freedom and well-being. A prudentrational agent who must have freedom and well-being will assert a“prudential right claim” to them. Having demanded thatothers must respect her freedom and well-being, consistency requiresher to recognize and respect the freedom and well-being of otherpersons. Since all other agents are in exactly the same position asshe is of desperately needing freedom and well-being, consistencyrequires her to recognize and respect their freedom andwell-being. She “logically must accept” that other peopleas agents have equal rights to freedom and well-being. These twoabstract rights work alone and together to generate equal specifichuman rights of familiar sorts (Gewirth 1978, 1982, 1996). Gewirth'saspiration was to provide an argument for human rights that applies toall human agents and that is inescapable. From a few hard-to-disputefacts and a principle of consistency he thinks we can derive twogeneric human rights—and from them, a list of more determinaterights. Gewirth's views have generated a large critical literature(see Beyleveld 1991 and Boylan 1999).
Human Rights: Essays on Justification and Applications (1982).
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