This is part one in a series of posts on human rights. The concept of human rights touches everyone even though it is sometimes an ambiguous concept that is poorly justified. Since it is so foundational, we should really examine it closely. The following are some common beliefs about human rights.
Belief 1—Human rights come from God or nature
Some believe that rights do not come from law, but they are God-given or come from nature. Because they are not given by any man they cannot be taken away. This is the meaning behind the phrase unalienable rights.
Belief 2—Human rights don't actually exist.
Some argue that human rights don't actually exist. Jeremy Bentham who founded utilitarianism and influenced John Stuart Mill held this view. He said,
Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts. But this rhetorical nonsense ends in the old strain of mischievous nonsense: for immediately a list of these pretended natural rights is given, and those are so expressed as to present to view legal rights. And of these rights, whatever they are, there is not, it seems, any one of which any government can, upon any occasion whatever, abrogate the smallest particle.
Belief 3—Human rights come from social contracts and law.
The social contract argument says that rights come a social contract that citizens make with their governments. Citizens consent—either implicitly or explicitly to surrender some of their freedoms in exchange for a protection of other rights.
In the upcoming posts, I will write about my own beliefs about rights and how they are, or perhaps are not, justified.