Practical Philosophy

Workshop: Human Rights and Human Exceptionalism

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Human rights are widely thought to be held by all and only human beings. This follows naturally from the orthodox characterization of human rights as the fundamental rights held by humans in virtue of being human. This view assumes either that there are morally relevant, rights-grounding features that are shared by all and only members of the human species, or that being a member of the human species is morally relevant in itself. Both of these assumptions have undergone extensive criticism in the literature on the moral and legal status of non-human animals, but relatively little attention has been paid to this literature in the growing body of philosophical work on human rights.

This workshop will bring together scholars in philosophy, law, and politics to discuss a number of questions concerning the human exceptionalism characteristic of human rights theory and practice. These questions include the following: 

  • Can the attribution of human rights exclusively to human beings be justified in both theory and practice?
  • What is ‘human dignity’ and what relation does it have to human rights? Can human dignity be understood in a way that avoids speciesism and human supremacism?  
  • Should human rights be extended to non-human creatures; and if so, which rights and to which non-humans?
  • Would such an extension require human rights to be reconceptualized as ‘sentient rights’ - and what would the implications of such a move be?
  • What are the overlaps, commonalities, synergies and tensions between human rights and animal rights?