In Defense of Human Rights: A Non-Religious Grounding in a Pluralistic World (Hardback) book cover

In Defense of Human Rights

A Non-Religious Grounding in a Pluralistic World

By Ari Kohen

© 2007 – Routledge

224 pages

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Paperback: 9780415479691
pub: 2008-06-10
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pub: 2007-02-22
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The argument that religion provides the only compelling foundation for human rights is both challenging and thought-provoking and answering it is of fundamental importance to the furthering of the human rights agenda.

This book establishes an equally compelling non-religious foundation for the idea of human rights, engaging with the writings of many key thinkers in the field, including Michael J. Perry, Alan Gewirth, Ronald Dworkin and Richard Rorty. Ari Kohen draws on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a political consensus of overlapping ideas from cultures and communities around the world that establishes the dignity of humans and argues that this dignity gives rise to collective human rights. In constructing this consensus, we have succeeded in establishing a practical non-religious foundation upon which the idea of human rights can rest.

In Defense of Human Rights will be of interest to students and scholars of political theory, philosophy, religious studies and human rights.


"The justification to others of what we take to be the foundation of the human-rights ideas eventually reaches an impasse beyond which no argument can take us. Here, the debate is moved forward not by answers but by questions, new perspectives, and thoughtful reconsiderations of older ones. In this Kohen excels. Reading his discussion of other authors is like sitting in the classroom of a gifted teacher, listening to clear, fair-minded, even generous critiques of complex arguments delivered in a style both pleasant and engaging."

Perspectives on Politics 6.2, 2008

"Kohen’s locating human rights in a deliberative process has much to recommend it. Namely, its construction of rights in a free and equal discourse is by definition more inclusive and respectful of differing practices and traditions than the Enlightenment approaches that Rorty condemned… Kohen’s program will be viewed sympathetically amongst many in liberal democracies with robust histories of such traditions. But it is an open question whether or not non-liberal societies – or even newly emerging ones like Russia – are prepared to meet Kohen’s challenge. Nevertheless, In Defense of Human Rights represents a fine contribution to the growing literature on its chosen subject and must be regarded as essential reading for all engaged with these matters."

Philosophy in Review, 2007

"Kohen’s proposal to defend human rights in terms of a consensus that is global in scope (rather than in metaphysical claims about human nature), if it can be confirmed by historical and contemporary empirical investigation, is a significant improvement over justifications of human rights offered by Perry, Gewirth, and Dworkin, not only in my view, but also in terms of the criteria of inclusivity, persuasiveness, and practicality that Kohen defends."

Human Rights Review 7.1, 2007

"…this book represents a fine contribution to the growing literature on its chosen subject, and it must be regarded as essential reading for all engaged with these matters."

David Lay Williams, University of Wisconsin--Stevens Point

Table of Contents

1. Prologue: Starvin’ for Justice 2. Introduction: The First Day of Class 3. Michael Perry and the Religious Cosmology: Foundations and Critiques of Human Rights 4. The Possibility of Non-religious Human Rights: Alan Gewirth and the Principle of Generic Consistency 5. The Problem of Secular Sacredness: Ronald Dworkin, Michael Perry, and Human Rights Foundationalism 6. Human Dignity Without Teleology: Human Rights and Evolutionary Biology 7. Does Might Make Human Rights?: Sympathy, Solidarity, and Subjectivity in Richard Rorty’s Final Vocabulary 8. Rights and Wrongs Without God: A Non-religious Grounding for Human Rights in a Pluralistic World 9. Bibliography

About the Author

Ari Kohen has been Assistant Professor of Justice Studies and Political Science at James Madison University, USA; from August 2007, he will be Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA.

About the Series

Routledge Innovations in Political Theory

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights