Human Duties and the Limits of Human Rights Discourse

  • Eric R. Boot

Part of the Studies in Global Justice book series (JUST, volume 17)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 1-9
  3. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 11-38
  4. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 39-76
  5. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 77-108
  6. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 109-141
  7. Eric R. Boot
    Pages 143-173
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 175-183

About this book


This book demonstrates the importance of a duty-based approach to morality. The dominance of what has been labeled “rights talk” leads to the neglect of duties without corresponding rights (e.g., duties of virtue) and stimulates the proliferation of questionable human rights. Therefore, this book argues for a duty-based perspective on morality in order to, first, salvage duties of virtue, and, second, counter the trend of rights-proliferation by providing some conceptual clarity concerning rights and duties that will enable us to differentiate between genuine and spurious rights-claims. 

The argument for this duty-based perspective is made by examining two particularly contentious duties: duties to aid the global poor and civic duties. These two duties serve as case studies and are explored from the perspectives of political theory, jurisprudence and moral philosophy. The argument is made that both these duties can only be adequately defined and allocated if we adopt the perspective of duties, as the predominant perspective of rights either does not recognize them to be duties at all or else leaves their content and allocation indefinite. 

This renewed focus on duties does not wish to diminish the importance of rights. Rather, the duty-based perspective on morality will strengthen human rights discourse by distinguishing more strictly between genuine and inauthentic rights. Furthermore, a duty-based approach enriches our moral landscape by recognizing both duties of justice and duties of virtue. The latter duties are not less important or supererogatory, but function as indispensable complements to the duties prescribed by justice. 

In this perceptive and exceptionally lucid book, Eric Boot argues that a duty-focused approach to morality will remedy the shortcomings he finds in the standard accounts of human rights. The study tackles staple philosophical topics such as the contrasts between duties of virtue and duties of justice and imperfect and perfect obligations. But more importantly perhaps, it also confronts the practical question of what our human rights duties are and how we ought to act on them. Boot's book is a splendid example of how philosophy can engage and clarify real world problems.

Kok-Chor Tan, Department of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania

A lively and enjoyable defence of the importance of our having duties to fellow human beings in severe poverty. At a time when global justice has never been more urgent, this new book sheds much needed light.

Thom Brooks, Professor of Law and Government and Head of Durham Law School, Durham University


Limits of Human Rights Human Duties to Human Rights Human Duties Declarations International Human Rights Law Perspectives of Human Rights International Individual Duties of Aid Argument for Civic Duties Importance of Civic Virtue Duty in normative discourse Duties To The Community And Civic Virtue Human rights law Global justice debate

Authors and affiliations

  • Eric R. Boot
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for PhilosophyLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

Bibliographic information