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The Concept of Human Rights


  • Edward Demenchonok


This essay examines the current debates regarding the politics of human rights. The universal concept of human rights is considered as a regulative principle for the possible critique of any state, including a democratic one. Moreover, the philosophical justification of the universal regulative principle for evaluating these states is vital for progressive political change and for the politics of human rights. At the heart of the analysis is Kant's concept of human rights as freedom. It is opposed to a more utilitarian interpretation of rights and political paternalism. Kant's philosophy helps us to better understand the meaning of the definition of human rights as inherent, sacred, and inalienable, as formulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Kant makes these meanings explicit, and he elaborates on the moral-philosophical explanations of humanitarian rights. His philosophy of law was developed in a process of a systematic criticism of political paternalism (which is the flip side of dependence). Kant developed his definition of individual freedom in opposition to authoritarian paternalism, utilitarian arbitrariness, and the "despotism of paternalistic benevolence." The categorical imperative is threefold: the imperatives of morality, right, and peace. Thus it could be interpreted as "the categorical imperative of peace." The analysis shows the ongoing relevance of Kant's ideas and their recent development by the theorists of "discourse ethics" and of "cosmopolitan democracy." It affirms that the solution to the problems of securing peace and protecting human rights can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on the international rule of law. Copyright © 2009 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc..

Suggested Citation

  • Edward Demenchonok, 2009. "The Concept of Human Rights," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 273-301, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ajecsc:v:68:y:2009:i:1:p:273-301

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