This chapter examines a number of key concepts in Hannah Arendt's work, with particular emphasis on how they have influenced contemporary thought about the meaning of human rights. It begins with a discussion of Arendt's claim that totalitarianism amounts to a destruction of the political domain and a denial of the human condition itself; this in turn had occurred only because human rights had lost all validity. It then considers Arendt's formula of the ‘right to have rights’ and how it opens the way to a ‘political’ conception of human rights founded on the defence of republican institutions and public-spiritedness. It shows that this ‘political’ interpretation of human rights is itself based on an underlying understanding of the human condition as marked by natality, liberty, plurality and action, The chapter concludes by reflecting on the so-called ‘right to humanity’.
This chapter focuses on human rights. Human rights are derived historically from the idea of natural law as it developed on a strong religious basis in late medieval Europe and, later, in a more secularized form during the more rationalist period of the Enlightenment. Meanwhile, the contemporary human rights movement stems from the aftermath of World War II. It is associated, domestically, with constitutional bills of rights and, internationally, with the work of the United Nations. Human rights may be defined as universal rights of great moral and political significance that belong to all human beings by virtue of their humanity. They are said to be overriding and absolute. Human rights may be divided into three overlapping groups: civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and group or collective rights for development and self-determination.
This chapter examines the practical implications of utilitarianism as a political morality. It first considers two features of utilitarianism that make it an attractive theory of political morality. First, the goal being promoted by utilitarians does not depend on the existence of God, or a soul, or any other dubious metaphysical entity. The second attraction is utilitarianism’s ‘consequentialism’. The chapter proceeds by breaking utilitarianism into two parts: an account of human welfare, or ‘utility’, and an instruction to maximize utility, giving equal weight to each person’s utility. It also discusses the two main arguments for viewing utility maximization as the standard of moral rightness: equal consideration of interests, and teleological utilitarianism. Finally, it evaluates utilitarians’ claim that every source of happiness, or every kind of preference, should be given the same weight, if it yields equal utility. The chapter argues that utilitarianism is inadequate as an account of equal consideration.