HUMAN RIGHTS: HISTORICAL AND THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES

Academic Year 2016/2017 - 1° Year

Learning Objectives

  • Natural Law and Natural Rights Theories
    Upon completion of this part of the course, students are expected to be familiar with the most influential political doctrines based on the natural law and natural rights theories of XVII and XVIII centuries . Students will be able to better understand the origins of what we call today “Human Rights” according to the western tradition . Each session will begin or include a brief lecture outlining the major issues addressed in the texts within their historical context. Papers presentation is required together with class discussions.
  • Human Rights: A Historical Approach
    This part of the course will enable students to better understand the historical path that marked the transition from natural law and natural rights to human rights. Students will be capable to trace the changes and continuities of debates and claims about rights throughout this period in order to explore how rights are historically asserted, justified and defended. At the end of this module students will have acquired an understanding of and critical perspective on the history of rights claims that inform the human rights documents of the XIX and XX centuries.
  • HUMAN RIGHTS: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH
    Upon completion of this part of the course, the student is expected to be familiar with the most influential philosophical works on human rights of the past twenty years. This will enable students to manage and command the contemporary debate surrounding human rights. Crucial is the study of the assigned material before the discussion in class. Each student is expected to deliver a presentation of part of the material and be active part of the general discussion among students and with the instructor on the assigned material.
  • HUMAN RIGHTS: THE IMPACT ON GLOBAL POLITICS
    Upon completion of this section, the student is expected to be able to handle abstract concepts and to use them in complex and articulated reasoning applied to some crucial issues of contemporary international politics.

Detailed Course Content

  • Natural Law and Natural Rights Theories

    This module is concerned with examining the shift toward an increasingly secular understanding of natural law and natural rights theories dealing with authors belonging to the early modern age from Grotius to Kant. This shift is marked by the emergence of two corresponding theories : a secular state of nature from which people implicitly contract into civil society and an international state of nature from which states explicitly contract into treaties and international law. This part of the course examines how these new theories employ both traditional and innovative understandings of the rights and duties of individuals, communities , states, and international society as a whole

  • Human Rights: A Historical Approach

    This module analyses an important shift or transition from natural law and natural rights to human rights . It will examine the redefinition of rights as human rights through two rights revolutions in the XVIII century: the American Revolution as primarily a natural rights revolution and the French Revolution as a human rights revolution. This part of the program will conclude by reading conflicting assessments of these rights revolutions, considering how the outcomes of these revolutions continue to inform and are appeald to by modern human rights traditions.

  • HUMAN RIGHTS: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH

    Although discussions of international and global issues often make reference to the notion of human rights, their philosophical foundation (or lack thereof), their claim to cross-cultural universality, and their ability to be a sort of secularized religion of mankind are far from uncontroversial. These issues are nowadays widely debated among philosophers, international relations theorists, sociologists and anthropologists. The class aims to introduce students to the debate and to stimulate independent yet informed thinking on the subject. In particular, we shall study the most influential philosophical theories that have attempted to provide a 'foundation' of human rights, i.e. an account of why they are supposed to be rights that humans have merely in virtue of their humanity.

  • HUMAN RIGHTS: THE IMPACT ON GLOBAL POLITICS

    Building upon the theoretical work of the preceding part, this section offers an application of the philosophical doctrines studied to concrete problems of contemporary global politics such as the right to humanitarian intervention, now better known as 'responsibility to protect', the problematic relation between human rights and the Islamic culture, the relations between human rights and democracy and that between human rights and egalitarianism.


Textbook Information

  • Natural Law and Natural Rights Theories

    I. J. FINNIS, Natural Law and Natural Rights, Oxford, 2011
    II. R. TUCK, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development, Cambridge, 1979

    III. M. ISHAY, The History of Human Rights: from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, University of California Press, 1996

  • Human Rights: A Historical Approach

    I. L. HUNT, The French Revolution and Human Rights : A Brief Documentary History, Bedford, 1996
    II. M. ISHAY, The History of Human Rights: from Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, University of California Press, 1996
    III. S. MOYN, The Last Utopia : Human Rights in History, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012 (paperback edition)