Philosophy 331S

Philosophy of Human Rights

Spring 2011



204 West Duke Building

Thursdays 1:30 – 4 pm



Instructors:      Allen Buchanan            

Gopal Sreenivasan        



Reading Schedule



January 13       Buchanan, “Philosophical Theories of Human Rights” in D. Estlund (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Human Rights (Oxford, forthcoming).

J 20                  Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights, 2 ed. (Blackwell, 2006), chh. 1-3.

J 27                  Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights (Cambridge, 2009), ch. 2.

February 3       Sreenivasan, “Duties and their direction,” Ethics 120 (2010):  465-94;

                        Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Rights.”

F 10                 Griffin, On Human Rights (Oxford, 2008), ch. 2; Nickel, chh. 4-5.

F 17                 Tasioulas, “The Moral Reality of Human Rights,” in T. Pogge (ed.) Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right (Oxford, 2007), pp. 75-101;

                        Griffin, ch. 5.

F 24                 Simmons, chh. 3-4.

March 3           Beitz, The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford, 2009), chh. 5-6;                        

Raz, “Human Rights without Foundations” in S. Besson and J. Tasioulas (eds.) Philosophy of International Law (Oxford, 2010) [= B/T], ch. 15.

M 10                Spring break.

M 17                Talbott, Which Rights Should be Universal? (Oxford, 2005), chh. 3-4;

                        Wong, Natural Moralities (Oxford, 2006), ch. 2.

M 24                Nickel, chh. 11;

Buchanan, “Human Rights and the Legitimacy of the International Legal Order,” Legal Theory 14 (2008): 39-70.

M 31                Tasioulas, “Legitimacy of International Law,” in B/T, ch. 4;

                        Buchanan, “Legitimacy of International Law,” in B/T, ch. 3.

April 7             Sreenivasan, “Does today’s international trade agreement bind tomorrow’s citizen?,Chicago-Kent Law Review 81 (2006): 119-45.

A 14                Workshop week

A 21                Powell and Buchanan, “Constitutional Democracy and the Rule of International Law: Are They Compatible?,Journal of Political Philosophy 16 (2008): 326-49.



Background expectations


Students should read James Nickel’s Making Sense of Human Rights, 2 ed. (Blackwell, 2006) before the beginning of the seminar.


Thomas Christiano will give a philosophy colloquium on human rights on Wednesday, April 13, 2011.  We expect that students in the seminar will attend this colloquium.



Further reading


Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

Feinberg, “The Nature and Value of Rights,” Journal of Value Inquiry 4 (1970): 243–57.

Buchanan, “What’s so special about rights?,Social Philosophy and Policy 2 (1984): 61-83.

Waldron, “Rights in conflict,” in his Liberal Rights (Cambridge, 1993), ch. 9.




Students enrolled in this course will have to write a term paper (20 pages).  The following dates must be observed:


            March 25:                  One page topic proposal, due by e-mail attachment.

            April 15:                     Term paper, due by e-mail attachment.


There will be one opportunity to rewrite your term paper for a higher grade, on the basis of the comments supplied.


In addition, there will be a weekly 2 page assignment, due by 9 am on seminar day in Blackboard’s digital dropbox.  Topics for the assignments will be posted weekly.  The assignments will simply be graded pass or fail.  Students who accumulate three failed assignments will have their term paper graded out of a maximum of B (instead of A).



Office Hours


 By appointment.