Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2013
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 119A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Andreas Teuber


"What Do Human Rights Demand of Us?"


Again: the question:

"Drawing on the reading and your own considered judgment, make an argument for or against the following: 'all states and corporations as well as individuals everywhere have an obligation to fully secure the right to be free from poverty of all persons regardless of their ethnic identity, race, nationality, gender, religion, creed or citizenship status,' think of several powerful objections to your argument and respond to them."

And here: a short guide.

A short guide to help you to find your way through the variety of positions you might take as well as arguments you might make in coming up with an answer to the question.

Again - but you know this, no? - we are interested in "your" answer, in what "you" think. You may use the 1st person. You may say, "I think this," "I believe that." But then having staked out a position, you will want to go on and defend your position as well as respond to those who may think otherwise. So the "I think," the "I believe" become "I think this because . . ." and "I believe that for the following reasons . . ."

In other words you value what you think so highly, you want to persuade the rest of us to think it too.


There are several ways to approach the final paper topic.

A first step might be to question whether there is a basic human right to be free from poverty.

If there is no such right, then there can be no correlative obligation to protect, fulfill and respect that right.

So that may be an obvious first step to take.

Henry Shue in his Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence and U.S. Foreign Policy (see especially pages 5-64) clearly thinks such a right exists,

He calls it, "a right to subsistence."


One way to challenge the existence of such a right is to insist on a sharp distinction between what could be called basic rights to liberty and security and rights to subsistence. And to argue that the first set of rights can be defended as everyone's minimal reasonable demand upon the rest of humanity and so are, in that sense, "legitimate," but the second set cannot be so defended and therefore are not, in that respect, "really" rights.

They may be demands for opportunities and services that would be good for human beings to have, that indeed may not only be good to have, but necessary to survive, but (still) they are not genuine rights: a "right" to be free from poverty is not a justified demand that one can reasonably make upon the rest of humanity.

Of course, to argue that social and economic rights are not basic rights on a par with rights to liberty one has to be able to distinguish between so-called "liberty"" rights and "subsistence" rights in some morally relevant fashion.

Shue, for example, thinks that a morally relevant distinction between rights to security and rights to subsistence cannot be sustained.

What do you think?

Do you agree with Shue?

Or do you disagree?

If so, why? If not, why not?

But even if you agree that a clear and sharp distinction cannot and ought not be made between civil and political liberties and, say, a right to adequate nutrition and subsistence such that the former are more basic than the latter, there are still questions to be raised.


Here (following Shue) are three:

(1) The fulfillment of a human right to be free from poverty is impractical, no matter "how genuine the right may be at a theoretical level." Given the alleged population explosion, among other things, fulfilling the right will hurt future generations, if not many who are living in the world now. It will do more harm than good. (See Shue, Chapter 4: "Realism and Responsibility," pp. 91-110)


(2) The fulfillment of a right to be free from poverty places an unfair burden on everyone except the poorest among us. To fulfill such a right the well-off will have to part with their hard-earned resources and capital, property they have not only earned but to which they are entitled. It's just not fair. (See Shue, Chapter 5: "Affluence and Responsibility," pp. 111-130)


(3) Anyway it cannot be the responsibility of all of us to be obligated to strangers thousands of miles away from us. What about our obligations to those who are poor within our own country? Having obligations to the poor everywhere, to people we have never met and do not know, would undermine local ties and allegiances and the sense of belonging each of us has to this or that nation. It will destroy national identity and for those who live in this country, in the United States, it will destroy the very idea of what it means to be an American. It's un-American. (See Shue, Chapter 6: "Nationality and Responsibility," pp. 131-152)


In thinking about the tug and pull of national identity v. the obligations that human rights may demand of us, you may wish to give some thought, too, to the idea of citizenship, to what it means to think of oneself as a citizen of this or that country v. thinking of oneself in more cosmopolitan terms, that is, as a citizen of the world. In this regard in addition to what Henry Shue has to say in Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence and U.S. Foreign Policy, you may also want to take at least a peek at . . .

David Miller, "The Ethical Significance of Nationality"; Robert E. Goodin, "What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?"; Jurgen Habermas, "Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe"; David Held, "Democracy: From City-States to a Cosmopolitan Order?"; Thomas Pogge, "Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty"; Jeremy Waldron, "Special Ties and Natural Duties" and Michael Blake, "Distributive Justice, State Coercion, and Autonomy" in GLOBAL JUSTICE; and Charles R. Beitz, "Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment"; Alasdair MacIntyre, "Is Patriotism a Virtue?"; and Thomas Hurka, "The Justification of National Partiality" in GLOBAL ETHICS.

In thinking about the obligations of the rich to the poor, of those living in the affluent countries who have more than enough for themselves to those who are in need of subsistence, you may in addition to Shue also wish to take a look at . . .

Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"; Garrett Hardin, "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor"; Amartya Sen, "Population: Delusion and Reality"; Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die" and Henry Shue, "Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions" in GLOBAL ETHICS.


In thinking about the good things, the ways of life, that respecting basic human rights make possible, you may want to take a peek at . . . Amartya Sen, "The Concept of Development" in GLOBAL ETHICS.

In thinking about questions of fairness, about whether a basic human right to be free from poverty places unfair demands on the non-poor - you may want in addition to Shue - to glance at the following . . .

John Rawls, "The Law of Peoples"; Thomas Pogge, "An Egalitarian Law of Peoples"; Darrel Moellendorf, "Constructing the Law of Peoples" and Kok-Chor Tan, "Liberal Toleration in Rawls's Law of Peoples" and Amartya Sen , "Equality of What?"in GLOBAL JUSTICE and John Rawls, "Sects. 15 and 16 of The Law of Peoples" in GLOBAL ETHICS


In thinking more about the connection between human rights and world poverty you may want to look at . . .

Thomas Pogge, (1) "Poverty Is a Human Right", (2) "World Poverty and Human Rights" and (3) "Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World's Poor?"

For an astonishingly clear account by Thomas Pogge of his own position on the relation between human rights and world poverty, watch the following video presentation of a twenty minute talk he gave at RSA House in London a year ago:

Thomas Pogge ENDING POVERTY And HERE, sent by Pogge himself to us, to the entire Human Rights class, is the Powerpoint Presentation that he created and used both at RSA House and for his more complete version of the talk for the RSA that he delivered here at Brandeis in the Zinner Forum on October the 8th

In thinking about the international legal obligations the United States may have to protect, fulfill and respect the rights of non-citizens under current international law you may want to take a look at . . .

Noah Feldman, "Cosmopolitan Law"; and the Supreme Court cases: Boumediene v. Bush (2008) and Medellin v. Texas (2008).


In thinking about a more minimalist position, not quite so outward looking as Noah Feldman's, you may wish to glance at Michael Ignatieff's Tanner Lectures on Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. So, too, Ignatieff disagrees with Henry Shue who believes that if a human rights agenda is to have a bright future it is important to protect and promote social and economic rights which many of the developing countries place first in their list of priorities as strongly and with an equal vigor as we are inclined to preserve and protect civil and political rights:

Michael Ignatieff, "Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry".

In thinking about how much is required of us, in meeting our obligations to the world's poor: how little? how much? what's enough? in thinking about what it could take to honor the obligations we are claimed to have to those living in poverty, you may also want to take at least a peek at . . .

Thomas Nagel, "Poverty and Food: Why Charity Is Not Enough" in GLOBAL JUSTICE

In thinking further about the moral differences between doing good versus being responsible for having done something bad, about the difference between causing and allowing, and between making something happen versus failing to prevent it, as well as individual versus institutional responsibility, you may wish to take a peek at . . .

Samuel Scheffler, "Individual Responsibility in a Global Age" in GLOBAL ETHICS and Onora O'Neill, "Rights, Obligations and World Hunger" and Thomas Pogge, "'Assisting' the Global Poor" in GLOBAL JUSTICE.


In thinking about how we may all be in this together, where "this" is "the plight of humanity," you may wish to look at . . .

Onora O'Neill, "Lifeboat Earth"; Charles R. Beitz, "Justice and International Relations"; Brian Barry, "Humanity and Justice in Global Perspective"; and Joseph H. Carens, "Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders" in GLOBAL JUSTICE and Charles Taylor, "Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights"; David Miller, "Distributing Responsibilities" and Richard W. Miller, "Moral Closeness and World Community" in GLOBAL ETHICS


These suggestions are rough approximations.

They provide a rough, very rough guide.

Ideally, you will be able to give yourself a little time, although we know how precious that can be these days. "There ain't much of it these days," as "they" say. But ideally you will be able to give yourself a little time and simply browse through some of the reading before you are set on exactly what you may wish to concentrate your attention.

You may too want to watch or at least take a peek at the following Video/Audio Talks with philosophers Peter Singer and Thomas Pogge:


For the paper you will want to carve out an area and work within it. Ideally you will want to carve out an area that you believe is especially critical to settling the questions (1) do human beings have a basic right to be free from poverty and, if so, (2) do we have an obligation to protect, fulfill and respect the right to be free from poverty among all human beings everywhere, no matter who they are or where they live on the planet?

Below is a complete list of readings in the two-volume collection , in GLOBAL ETHICS and in GLOBAL JUSTICE. The titles alone will give you an inkling of the range of issues and concerns that the question (above) prompts and provokes.

I have tried to identify how they might be broken down into small mini-units, although I suppose if they are "mini" they are already "small." Thomas Pogge and his co-editors have organized the readings in the order in which they were published (chronologically) and so, not thematically. They do attempt their own breakdown in their brief Introductions to each Volume. That is of some help and you may wish to take a peek at those. I have made an effort to break things down in light of the Final Paper Topic which, I believe, is more helpful at this stage.


The readings from the two volumes on GLOBAL JUSTICEand GLOBAL ETHICS that we were able to find in electronic form are highlighted in the breakdown above. Simply click on those that are highlighted and you will be linked to them.


    1. Onora O'Neill
    Lifeboat Earth
    2. Charles R. Beitz
    Justice and International Relations
    3. Thomas Nagel
    Poverty and Food: Why Charity Is Not Enough
    4. Amartya Sen
    Equality of What?
    5. Henry Shue
    Chapters 1-2 of Basic Rights
    6. Michael Walzer
    The Distribution of Membership
    7. Brian Barry
    Humanity and Justice in Global Perspective
    8. Joseph H. Carens
    Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders
    9. David Miller
    The Ethical Significance of Nationality
    10. Robert E. Goodin
    What Is So Special about Our Fellow Countrymen?
    11. Jurgen Habermas
    Citizenship and National Identity: Reflections on the Future of Europe
    12. David Held
    Democracy: From City-States to a Cosmopolitan Order?
    13. Thomas Pogge
    Cosmopolitanism and Sovereignty
    14. Jeremy Waldron
    Special Ties and Natural Duties
    15. John Rawls
    The Law of Peoples
    16. Thomas Pogge
    An Egalitarian Law of Peoples
    17. Martha C. Nussbaum
    Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings
    18. Darrel Moellendorf
    Constructing the Law of Peoples
    19. Allen Buchanan
    Theories of Secession
    20. Kok-Chor Tan
    Liberal Toleration in Rawls's Law of Peoples
    21. Hillel Steiner
    Just Taxation and International Redistribution
    22. Michael Blake
    Distributive Justice, State Coercion, and Autonomy


    1. Peter Singer
    Famine, Affluence, and Morality
    2. Garrett Hardin
    Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor
    3. David Luban
    Just War and Human Rights
    4. Michael Walzer
    The Moral Standing of States: A Response to Four Critics
    5. Michael W. Doyle
    Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Part I
    6. Charles R. Beitz
    Cosmopolitan Ideals and National Sentiment
    7. Alasdair MacIntyre
    Is Patriotism a Virtue?
    8. Onora O'Neill
    Rights, Obligations and World Hunger
    9. Amartya Sen
    The Concept of Development
    10. Avishai Margalit and Joseph Raz
    National Self-Determination
    11. Henry Shue
    Subsistence Emissions and Luxury Emissions
    12. Susan Moller Okin
    Gender Inequality and Cultural Differences
    13. Amartya Sen
    Population: Delusion and Reality
    14. Samuel Scheffler
    Individual Responsibility in a Global Age
    15. Richard Rorty
    Who Are We? Moral Universalism and Economic Triage
    16. Peter Unger
    Living High and Letting Die
    17. Thomas Hurka
    The Justification of National Partiality
    18. Charles Taylor
    Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights
    19. John Rawls
    Sects. 15 and 16 of The Law of Peoples
    20. Stephen M. Gardiner
    The Real Tragedy of the Commons
    21. David Miller
    Distributing Responsibilities
    22. Richard W. Miller
    Moral Closeness and World Community
    23. Thomas Pogge
    "Assisting" the Global Poor
    24. Alison M. Jaggar
    "Saving Amina": Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue






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