This course will begin in the present, work backwards to consider classical theories and their significant differences, and then return to the present to consider an influential recent theory and its critics, and the practical significance of these views.

It will begin by examining the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and comparing it to 18th century declarations, most notably the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the subsequent Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen (1791).

To explain the differences between these documents, we will examine the traditional rights theory of John Locke and its medieval origins, and compare it with the rights theories of Hobbes and Spinoza.

We will then return to the present to consider the rights theory of the Oxford philosopher James Griffin and its critics, and, in the light of these views, consider appeals to rights in the moral assessment of significant contemporary issues (right to life, right to choose, right to die, rights of refugees, etc).

Preliminary reading is not necessary, but is of course an advantage. So to be best prepared, read over the three declarations mentioned above (all readily available on the net), keeping an eye out for their differences. The really keen could then have a look at Hobbes, Leviathan, chapters 13 and 14; Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, chapter 16; and Locke, Two Treatise of Government, Treatise II, chapters 2–4.

NB You are very welcome in this course regardless of how good your English is. I’m sure that we’ll get the message across to each other. If you have some rudiments of high-school English, you’ll be fine. Linguistic deficiencies will be irrelevant. (You will not be held responsible for the lecturer’s inadequate German!)


Zeit: Donnerstag, 16-20 Uhr
Ort: Geb. C7 2, CIP-Pool (0.05)