Philosophy of Human Rights

Theory and Practice

David Boersema

First Edition • March 1, 2011 • 456 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813344928 • $50.00 USD$46.50 CAN


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Combining the sustained, coherent perspective of an authored text with diverse, authoritative primary readings, Philosophy of Human Rights provides the context and commentary students need to comprehend challenging rights concepts. Clear, accessible writing, thoughtful consideration of primary source documents, and practical, everyday examples pertinent to students’ lives enhance this core textbook for courses on human rights and political philosophy. The first part of the book explores theoretical aspects, including the nature, justification, content, and scope of rights. With an emphasis on contemporary issues and debates, the second part applies these theories to practical issues such as political discourse, free expression, the right to privacy, children’s rights, and victims’ rights. The third part of the book features the crucial documents that are referred to throughout the book, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights, and many more.

David Boersema is the Douglas C. Strain Professor of Natural Philosophy and Distinguished University Professor at Pacific University in Oregon. He is the author of Pragmatism and Reference and Philosophy of Science, and coeditor of Spiritual and Political Dimensions on Nonviolence and Peace.


Part One: Theory
1. The Nature of Rights
2. The Justification of Rights
3. The Content and Scope of Rights
4. Rights Holders
5. Criticisms of Rights

Part Two: Practice and Applications
6. Rights in Political Discourse
7. Global Rights Discourse
8. Right to Free Expression
9. Employment Rights
10. Right to Privacy
11. Intellectual Property Rights
12. Children’s Rights
13. Victims’ Rights

Part Three: Rights Documents
Declaration of Independence
Bill of Rights
French Declaration of the Rights of Man
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights
Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam

“This is a superb book. Boersema gives readers judicious, balanced selections from leading theorists—historical and contemporary—on many controversial aspects of human rights. Boersema provides introductions that are clear, thorough, and eminently readable. This book sets a new standard for the teaching of human rights, both within political theory, and in connection with controversial policies.”
—Robert Paul Churchill, George Washington University

“David Boersema’s Philosophy of Human Rights combines the unity and accessibility of a single-authored text with the diverse and competing views of an anthology. It contains selections from such notable scholars as Alan Dershowitz, Ronald Dworkin, Richard Epstein, Joel Feinberg, Carol Gould, H.L.A. Hart, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Joseph Raz, joined together with introductory and explanatory text by the author. It is hard to imagine a more student-friendly approach.”
—James P. Sterba, University of Notre Dame

“David Boersema’s Philosophy of Human Rights is, above all, thorough and readable. It offers discussions of all the major questions about rights, from high theory to very specific practice. No one will have any difficulty reading and understanding these discussions, even when they get into matters that have been the subject of intricate and subtle inquiry in philosophical periodicals and books.

The book is unusual in combining the usually distinct functions of an anthology and a monograph. We get a wide array of discussions from the horse’s mouth, but we also get sensible linking material so that we know, pretty much, where we are at and why.

He has to be congratulated on this. I should think this book will have a very wide acceptance among teachers dealing with this important subject.”
—Jan Narveson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo

“I found Boersema’s approach to be engaging and refreshing. His writing is readable without sacrificing the theoretical precision and philosophical depth. The short selections from notable authorities featured in each chapter are judiciously chosen and well-edited, and the overall organization of the book covers many of the issues found in a typical undergraduate course on the philosophy of human rights….This textbook is a welcome addition to the literature and will doubtless find a place in syllabi of many college courses…” —Human Rights Quarterly

“David Boersema’s “Philosophy of Human Rights is a lucid, unpretentious textbook… [Boersema] sidesteps jargon and generally suppresses his own opinions, allowing readers to observe the concerns, tendencies, and rhetorical moves that characterize the writings of modern-day rights theorists. The focus is not on cataloguing the various positions that recent theorist have taken, but on providing an understanding of how university-trained philosophers tend to parse, study, and apply rights concepts.” —Harvard Human Rights Journal

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