Justifying Human Rights
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There are two fundamental but distinct claims calling for justification in a doctrine of human rights. Firstly, that human beings have rights and, secondly, that human beings have rights. The first claim centres on the idea that merely being human is itself of moral significance and that is hardly a peculiar notion nowadays. Most contemporary moralities, whether or not they think in terms of rights, recognise that being human makes one a member of the moral community. That is, they share the conviction that there are certain ways in which it is right or wrong to treat any human being. Of course, logically, a morality can deny that being human is sufficient to make one an object of moral concern and there have been, and still are, moralities which have drawn the limits of the moral community far more narrowly on grounds such as race or caste or class or nationhood. Even moralities which do give moral significance to being human are likely to give an added moral significance to the specific roles and relationships in which people find themselves, so that we are deemed to have greater moral obligations to our children or parents or friends or fellow-citizens than we have to those who stand before us merely as fellow human beings. So, amongst those moralities which do give moral significance to being human, there can be large variations in the degree of moral significance they give to being human.
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