Human Rights, Then and Now: Philosophy, History, Prospects

Section 1ZO, Spring 21

Schedule Information

Enrollment: 11/16
Credits: 3

Course Description

“Human rights” names both a body of law and a moral ideal. The French revolutionaries issued a “Declaration of the Rights of Man” and the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaimed rights that are both self-evident and unalienable. The British jurist Jeremy Bentham replied that the idea of rights inextinguishable by law is nonsense – indeed, “nonsense on stilts.” Today we confront similar philosophical debates. Millions believe that international human rights take priority over national politics and legislation. Is that true? Where do human rights come from? What are their limits? Today the human rights movement faces grave political challenges. Human rights NGOs are under attack in many countries; the same with the International Criminal Court. Scholars warn of “the twilight of human rights law” and “endtimes of human rights”; others respond that the movement has tangibly and measurably improved human well-being. Conservative critics warn of rights inflation and threats to state sovereignty; some on the left see the human rights movement as a minimalist substitute for global justice that fits too comfortably with neoliberalism. This seminar will sample some of this writing and explore major philosophical and political issues about human rights today. It is not a substitute for a basic International Human Rights course. There are no prerequisites. Grading will be based on short writings and a seminar paper. The seminar paper need not be “philosophical”; its purpose is to get you to do a deep dive into a human rights-related topic that builds on your own interests.

Course Requirements

Exam Info:
Midterm Type (if any): None
Description: None

Final Type (if any): None
Description: None
Final Exam Notes:


Written Work Product
Written Work Product: Students will be responsible for short postings on most weeks’ readings, plus a substantial research paper due via EXPO no later than noon on last day of exam period.

Other Work

Other Course Details
Prerequisites: None Concurrencies: None
Mutually Exclusive With: None
Laptops Allowed: No
First Day Attendance Required: No
Course Notes:

Graduation Requirements

*Satisfies Writing Requirement: Yes
**Credits For Prof. Skills Requirement: No
Satisfies Professional Ethics: No

*Yes means professor requires everyone in the course to submit a substantial research paper (which is the requirement standard in Academic Policies), so no paperwork required to be submitted to SRO. No means student must timely submit paperwork to SRO if intending to use a paper in this course to satisfy the Writing Requirement.

**Yes indicates course credits count towards UVA Law’s Prof. Skills graduation requirement, not necessarily a skills requirements for any particular state bar.

General Information

Schedule No.
Law No.
Modified Type
Cross Listed: No
Cross-Listed Course Mnemonic:
Public Syllabus Link: None
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Evaluation Portal Via LawWeb Closes: