Moral progress and human rights

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

10 Scopus citations


This chapter makes the case that the concept of human rights on which the modern international human rights enterprise is grounded is morally progressive. I first clarify the idea of moral progress. Next, I focus on what I take to be some of the most important improvements in thinking about justice and explain how they are connected to one another. Then, I show that the modern conception of human rights encompasses all of these improvements. My account of moral-conceptual progress will be neutral on the crucial question of causal relations between changes in normative ideas and interests or other so-called “material” factors. What I will say is compatible with both the view that the moral-conceptual changes I describe played a major causal role in progressive institutional change (such as the abolition of slavery) and with the view that they were largely post-hoc responses to institutional change caused by realignments of interests, as well as with a range of more nuanced alternative views that allow complex reciprocal causality between normative beliefs and interests. It will also be compatible with a sensible rejection of the facile distinction between normative beliefs and interests on the basis of which the question of causality is usually framed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHuman Rights
Subtitle of host publicationThe Hard Questions
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511758553
ISBN (Print)9781107003064
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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