UCL Faculty of Laws


No interest in human rights?

28 January 2015, 4:00 pm–7:00 pm

Human Rights

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Social & Legal Philosophy Colloquia 2015


Moot Court, UCL Laws, Bentham House, WC1H 0EG

Speaker: Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia, UCL
Chair: Professor George Letsas & Professor Riz Mokal, UCL
Admission: Free
Series: Social & Legal Philosophy Colloquia 2015

About the colloquium

On a highly popular contemporary account of how we should justify human rights we must identify people’s interests that are sufficiently important to ground obligations for others to satisfy those interests. Finding an interest that meets this threshold of importance is a necessary step in justifying any human right. Call this the threshold thesis.

Other features of these interests might pick out the rights as specifically human rights, such as the interests being suitably universal. Justification, however, means meeting a threshold of importance. Crucially, the importance of the interests must be importance for the right holders, in some significant way, as this also explains the individualism of human rights – that each person can claim a specific kind of treatment because of something about her rather than because of some general conception of the common good or fairness that might not secure this treatment for each and every person. Call that the individualist thesis.

However, this elegantly simple approach to human rights justification faces a problem in practical reason. On one of the plausible senses of importance in the threshold thesis, the account cannot supply the right kind of reasons needed to justify human rights with a clear normative content: a clear account of moral reasons for others to bear burdens for the sake of fulfilling the interests and so a clear sense of the extent of the burdens that can be justified.

This means that the account faces critical problems in justifying practical rights. On the other plausible sense of importance, the account will not be consistent with the individualist thesis, and will anyway lose any distinctive identity it has as an interest-based account. I end by illustrating an alternative that does not suffer from these same problems in giving an account of how to justify the normative content of human rights as practical rights.

About the speaker

Dr Meckled-Garcia is the founder of the Human Rights programme at the School of Public Policy, having designed and launched the MA in Human Rights in 2003. He is also co-founder and Director of the new UCL Institute for Human Rights. His research focuses on the ethical foundations of human rights, and on theories of international justice. This work emphasises the link between adopting specific theories of human rights, justice and criminal liability, and clear practical/policy consequences.

He has recently published work on ‘Specifying human rights’, ‘Rethinking the human right to subsistence’, ‘Does the WTO violate human rights?’, ‘Is there really a global human rights deficit?’, and ‘Do translational economic effects violate human rights?’, as well as various topics in international and global justice theory, and in moral and political methodology.

Currently Co-Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, and a Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and Political Theory, he has been a Rubin Senior Research Fellow in Human Rights, a Junior Research Fellow (Birmingham, Philosophy), and a Special Fellow in Philosophy (UCL, Philosophy) where he gave a series of intercollegiate lectures on the political and moral philosophy of the young Marx.

He has been on the editorial board of Imprints, Journal of Egalitarian Theory and Policy, an associate editor for Res Publica, and a referee for a variety of journals (Political Studies, The Journal of Political Philosophy, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, The Philosophical Quarterly, Review of International Studies).

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