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Instructor Class Description

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William J. Talbott
PHIL 338
Seattle Campus

Philosophy of Human Rights

Theories of human rights and the bearing of these theories on issues of public policy such as legitimacy of war and terrorism, economic justice, and whether future generations have rights.

Class description

This course will provide you with a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of human rights. The course begins with an overview of the main issues in the conceptualization and justification of human rights. The course then considers the following special topics: Should human rights be understood only negatively, as rights not to be coerced, or they include positive rights—that is, rights to be provided with something (e.g., subsistence, health care, or education). Are human rights culturally relative? We will consider the position that human rights reflect "Western values" and do not apply to other societies. We will also consider the potential conflict between women's rights and traditional values; and feminist criticisms of human rights as androcentric. Other questions include: Are there gay and lesbian rights? Are human rights individual rights, or do they also include group rights? We will also discuss international enforcement and the role of the International Criminal Court. There will be a Midterm Exam, a Final Exam, several short written assignments, and a final project (a research paper on a human rights issue). This course qualifies as a core course for the Human Rights Minor and is an approved course for the Law, Societies, & Justice sub-field on rights. Meets I&S Requirement. Prerequisites: None. TEXTS: (1) Patrick Hayden, "The Philosophy of Human Rights"; (2) volume 1 of the course reader; and (3) EITHER volume 2 of the course reader, which contains excerpts from my book, "Which Rights Should Be Universal?", OR you may buy the book itself, if you wish. (There are no royalty payments included in the price of volume 2 of the reader.) DO NOT BUY BOTH.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


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 Annette R. Bernier
Date: 04/01/2013