ancilla iuris

Human Rights Theory and Human Rights History - A Tale of Two Odd Bedfellows

The burgeoning of recent publications on human rights shows how fashionable an object of study international human rights have become lately, and this especially among philosophers and historians. Curiously, however, given that joint development, human rights theorists and human rights historians seem to be following separate paths, without much interaction between them besides historians ‘showcas[ing] the theoretical and philosophical debates about the meaning of human rights and theorists gesturing at some of the historical origins of the concept of human rights usually to then distance themselves from them.

The specific question that arises for human rights theorists in this context is not only whether human rights history should matter for their normative endeavour, but also how it could be integrated methodologically in the latter, if at all. Is human rights history more than a source of information for the philosopher of human rights? Should it be used, for instance, to identify the object of human rights theorizing and then maybe to interpret it? And may it provide a critical tool for non-ideal human rights theories?

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Published 02.09.2012
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