Are human rights real? How do they exist?
Ontological scepticism questions the very being of universal human rights. In its most explicit form, it asserts that human rights do not exist. As famously stated by the British moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in response to the proclamation of rights belonging to all human beings merely on account of being human: ‘there are no such rights, and belief in them is one with belief in witches and in unicorns.’
Contemporary critics have, on a variety of related counts, expressed doubt about the concept of universal human rights for example questioning whether the abstract idea of humanity can ground a comprehensive and inclusive normative framework committed to social justice.
What such expressions of ontological scepticism confront human rights advocates with, above all, is the need to seriously reflect on the concept of human rights. The issue is not in a trivial sense whether human rights exist but rather how they exist, where they derive from, and what renders them normatively compelling.
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