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Professor James Griffin’s outstanding and important book, On Human Rights, has now been published by Oxford University Press. Professor Griffin is the White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy, Emeritus, at Oxford University, and currently holds appointments at Oxford, Rutgers University and Australian National University.

Dr. John Tasioulas (Oxford) has some wonderful remarks regarding Professor Griffin’s book, which he presented at Professor Griffin’s book launch on January 23, 2008, and which can be found here.

Professor Griffin’s address to the audience at the book launch, in which he shares his motivation for writing the book, can also be found here.

Having read the book, I highly recommend it to scholars and advanced students of political, moral, and legal philosophy, and anyone with an interest in human rights.

Here are some places from which you can obtain a copy: US Amazon; UK Amazon; US OUP; and UK OUP.

Description of On Human Rights from OUP:

What is a human right? How can we tell whether a proposed human right really is one? How do we establish the content of particular human rights, and how do we resolve conflicts between them? These are pressing questions for philosophers, political theorists, jurisprudents, international lawyers, and activists. James Griffin offers answers in his compelling new investigation of human rights.

The term ‘natural right’, in its modern sense of an entitlement that a person has, first appeared in the late Middle Ages. When during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the theological content of the idea was abandoned in stages, nothing was put in its place. The secularized notion that we were left with at the end of the Enlightenment is still our notion today: a right that we have simply in virtue of being human. During the twentieth century international law has contributed to settling the question which rights are human rights, but its contribution has its limits.

The notion of a human right that we have inherited suffers from no small indeterminateness of sense. The term has been left with so few criteria for determining when it is used correctly that we often have a plainly inadequate grasp on what is at issue. Griffin takes on the task of showing the way towards a determinate concept of human rights, based on their relation to the human status that we all share. He works from certain paradigm cases, such as freedom of expression and freedom of worship, to more disputed cases such as welfare right – for instance the idea of a human right to health. His goal is a substantive account of human rights – an account with enough content to tell us whether proposed rights really are rights. Griffin emphasizes the practical as well as theoretical urgency of this goal: as the United Nations recognized in 1948 with its Universal Declaration, the idea of human rights has considerable power to improve the lot of humanity around the world.

It is our job now – the job of this book – to influence and develop the unsettled discourse of human rights so as to complete the incomplete idea.


Part I: An Account of Human Rights
I. Human Rights: The Incomplete Idea
II. First Steps in An Account of Human Rights
III. When Human Rights Conflict
IV. Whose Rights?
V. My Rights: But Whose Duties?
VI. The Metaphysics of Human Rights
VII. The Relativity and Ethnocentricity of Human Rights

Part II: Highest Level Human Rights
VIII. Autonomy
IX. Liberty
X. Welfare

Part III: Applications
XI. Discrepanices Between the Best Philosophical Account of Human Rights and the International Law of Human Rights
XII. A Right to Life, A Right to Death
XIII. Privacy
XIV. Do Human Rights Require Democracy?
XV. Group Rights


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