Equality and human rights

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16 Scopus citations


There is a puzzling disconnect between recent philosophical literature on equality and the modern theory and practice of human rights. This disconnect is puzzling because the modern human rights movement is arguably the most salient and powerful manifestation of the commitment to equality in our time. One likely source of this disconnect is the tendency of contributors to the philosophical literature on equality to focus on justice within the state, considered in isolation. This article begins the task of connection. Section II outlines a philosophical conception of human rights, the Modest Objectivist View, according to which the list of human rights is grounded in descriptive and normative egalitarian assumptions about what is required to help ensure that every individual has the opportunity for a minimally good or decent human life. Next, I explore the resources of the Modest Objectivist View for rationally reconstructing the conventional conception of human rights. Section III examines challenges to the Modest Objectivist View’s egalitarian assumptions. Section IV explores the question of whether the minimal egalitarianism of the Modest Objectivist View is compatible with the more robust egalitarianisms advanced in recent philosophical literature. I conclude that the minimalist egalitarianism of human rights is compatible with more robust egalitarian principles, once we understand the distinctive function of human rights as standards of transnational justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-90
Number of pages22
JournalPolitics, Philosophy and Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Modest Objectivist View
  • basic interests
  • decent human life
  • egalitarianism
  • equality
  • minimalism
  • minimally good life
  • opportunity for a decent life
  • transnational justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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