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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

William J. Talbott
PHIL 538
Seattle Campus

Philosophy of Human Rights

Class description

Which rights, if any, should be guaranteed to all adult human beings with normal cognitive, emotional, and behavioral capacities? This is the central normative question in the philosophy of human rights. In this seminar, we will consider four parts of that question: What are the basic human rights that a government should guarantee its citizens? What other human rights should be a government guarantee its citizens in addition to the basic human rights? What human rights should a government guaranteed to non-citizen residents? Are there any human rights that governments should guarantee even to non-resident, non-citizens? In addition to these substantive normative questions, we will consider and evaluate two different approaches to answering them, consequentialist and nonconsequentialist. The main reading for the seminar will be the manuscript for my book Human Rights and Human Well-Being, in which I give a consequentialist (though not utilitarian) account of human rights. See below for other readings. Each student will lead a seminar discussion, write one short (5 page) paper, and write a (10-20 page) term paper. TEXTS: Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights; Rawls, The Law of Peoples; Talbott, Which Rights Should Be Universal?; and a photocopy of the manuscript of my forthcoming book, Human Rights and Human Well-Being.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Seminar discussion. Students will lead some of the discussion sessions.

Recommended preparation

The seminar is open to graduate students and suitably prepared undergraduates. Undergraduates must obtain the permission of the instructor. Students are expected to have read John Locke's Second Treatise of Government and J.S. Mill's On Liberty prior to the course.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments include: regular attendance and participation in seminar; weekly response papers (2 pages each) on the assigned readings; a short paper (5 pages) in conjunction with a seminar presentation; and a term paper (10-20 pages) with obligatory first draft.

Grades will be based on points earned out of a total of 340 as follows: response papers = 80 points (10 points each); short paper/in-class presentation = 60 points; term paper = 200 points.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by William J. Talbott
Date: 03/22/2005