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Title The Relationship of Right: A Constitutive Vindication of Human Rights
Publication Date
Date Available
Degree Level doctoral
University/Publisher University of Toronto

What is the fundamental justification of the idea of human rights? In this dissertation I argue that human rights are justified in virtue of the special role they play in practical thought: they function as the constitutive conditions of the relationship of right. This answer has two distinctive features: it justifies human rights non-instrumentally and relationally, as those claim rights universally necessary for relating to each other as juridical equals, as lacking authority over one another. This constitutive argument for human rights contrasts with the predominant theories of human rights, which tend to justify human rights instrumentally as means for the protection of an independently intelligible (and non-relational) purpose (e.g., basic needs, urgent interests, autonomy, capacity-development). A strong reason for endorsing the account proposed here is that it explains better than its instrumentalist competitors the universal validity of human rights while offering a more robust response against the human rights skeptic. Furthermore, this constitutive argument gives us the resources for seeing how human rights form an indivisible whole comprising civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights and how human rights structure an international order of peace. My account thus promises to offer a much-needed defense of the ideals enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Subjects/Keywords Human Rights; Immanuel Kant; Rights Theory; Justice; Coherentism
Contributors Ripstein, Arthur; Philosophy
Language en
Country of Publication ca
Record ID handle:1807/43766
Repository toronto-diss
Date Retrieved
Date Indexed 2020-03-09

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…minimal universality constraint.” The puzzle is that neither of the two standard models of justification, foundationalism and coherentism, appears to meet the universality constraint. Foundationalist accounts fail due to their instrumentalist character. As…

…adequate justification of the idea of human rights would avoid the instrumentalism characteristic of standard foundationalist accounts, while avoiding the arbitrary particularism characteristic of standard coherentism. My constitutive argument for human…

…rights develops a version of coherentism inspired by Immanuel Kant’s concept of the constitutive a priori. Unlike standard, empiricist forms of coherentism, a priori holism (as I shall call my version of coherentism) attributes a special…

…justifying human rights non-instrumentally, and it avoids the perils of standard coherentism by making human rights constitutive of a basic (rather than contingent) relationship, the relationship of right. Human rights then function as non…

…simply to formulate a puzzle: neither of the two predominant models of justification can meet the universality constraint. Foundationalism fails because of its instrumentalism; standard coherentism fails because of its arbitrary particularism…

…particularism of coherentism, we may resolve the puzzle by envisaging a form of justification that is non-instrumentalist (non-foundationalist) and yet avoids the arbitrary particularism characteristic of standard coherentist accounts. Articulating and…