Human rights include individual rights against government oppression, such as the right to freedom of thought, religion, speech, assembly, and to a fair system of criminal justice. But even in this basic political sense, "human rights" means different things in different historical and cultural contexts and advocacy of such rights has frequently been viewed as subjective. Justifying Ethics offers a thorough critique of the most common attempts to formulate objective standards through appeals to human nature, religion, and reason.
Gorecki opens his inquiry by considering the role of norm-making concepts in the history of ethical thought: how standards of rights were claimed to conform to human nature and reason or have been stipulated by an external authoritative source such as God or social contracts. He then shows how such justifications may be discounted on analytical or practical grounds using such examples as divine will, Kantian reason, and the truth value of moral judgments. With respect to empirically grounded appeals to human nature, Gorecki argues against the notion that the innate plasticity of human behavior and potential for social diversity is sufficient grounds for human rights activity without objective justification. The search for justification remains essential in enhancing the persuasiveness of ethical action that aims at the moral "contagion" of the people by the human rights experience and the transition from moral acceptance to legal implementation.
Broad in intellectual scope, Justifying Ethics draws upon moral and political philosophy, social policy, psychology, history, jurisprudence, and international law to clarify the prerequisites for the success of human rights activity. The book will be of special interest to political theorists, philosophers, sociologists, and human rights activists.