ph219sp - Topics in Philosophy and Human Rights PHIL 219/...

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Topics in Philosophy and Human Rights PHIL 219/ HRTS 219 Date: Wednesday 4:00 – 6:30 Location: Koons Hall 302 Instructor: Dr. Serena Parekh Office: Manchester Hall 136 Office Hours: TTH 11-12 “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, written in 416 BC) Since the dawn of political philosophy, there have been two main ways of viewing power. The first, as expressed above, holds that “might makes right” and that one’s power is enough to justify one’s actions. The second way is most powerfully expressed by the language of human rights – that each human being has certain inalienable rights that ought not to be violated under any circumstances. It upholds the idea that the “weak” are no less valuable or important than the “strong” and that we have a moral duty to protect the weak. This course will examine the philosophical roots of this second position. Though human rights have become a fact of political life and discourse in the 20 th and 21 st centuries, we are still struggling to solidify its intellectual foundations. Without a solid understanding of what human rights are, how and why we have them and what they mean, human rights cannot confront the powerful ideologies that hold, since the time Thucydides, that right is a matter of power. The purpose of this course is to give you a solid grounding in the philosophical underpinnings of human rights as well as to give you an overview of some of the current debates in the philosophy of human rights. The first half of the course will give an historical overview to some of the idea and values that have allowed human rights, in their 21 st century version, to emerge. We will examine various western and non-western understandings of human nature as the ground for human rights. We will also look at the concept of “nature” in the ancient world and how our understanding of it in modernity has changed. This will allow us to see the challenge of the post-modern denial of human nature and universality for human rights. In short, if we cannot agree on what human nature is or even if there is such a thing, how can we ground human rights which are rights based on human nature? In the second half of the course we will examine some of the main debates in the philosophy of human rights and the positions taken in them by the
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ph219sp - Topics in Philosophy and Human Rights PHIL 219/...

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