Human Rights in Philosophy and Social Sciences

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 3
Words: 658
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: College


The human rights concept is a difficult one to define. Almost all problems attach themselves to the issue of human rights (Clapham, 2007). This research paper investigates the origin and development of modern human rights ideas. It discusses how various definitions of human rights by scholars, philosophers, political figures, and societies have evolved over time. The discussion also includes challenges encountered in arriving at a universal definition of human rights.


The research paper sources materials from scholarly articles. Information regarding the history of human rights and how it has changed over time is drawn from these articles and discussed in the findings section.


Varying definitions and their evolutions over time

People have different perspectives on human rights. Some exhibit a lot of passion whenever the topic springs up. Others, such as lawyers and advocates, equate human rights to the art and make references to both national and international law (Clapham, 2007). Human rights are considered to override all other laws. They serve to defend victims. This purpose creates two parties who demand a favorable judgment.

People from all walks of life conceptualize different meanings of human culture. There are those who come to the defense of victims of inhumane treatment. In equal measure, the Council of Europe defends criminals and terrorists on the premise that their human rights are also valid (COE, 2014). Early proponents and opponents of human rights conceived rightful treatment. However, the same people are seen to be delusional about the practical existence of the human rights concept. However, in the UK, there are reservations that change with time (TNA, 2014).

The Human rights concept, according to William Edmundson, is a narrow category of interests that suit particular individuals or groups of people (Clapham, 2007). For instance, religions, most notably Christianity, outlaws the killing of a human being. A recent case of the United Kingdom and terrorists portrays a contradiction in the application of the aforementioned rule. A section of the people demands that the country ought to launch an offensive against perpetrators of terror through attacks. Others hold that terrorists have rights too and that authorities should detain them within the country at the expense of taxpayers’ money. In the UK today, legislators have more powers over human rights (TNA, 2014). In countries such as America, the constitution is supreme.

Challenges in Creating Definitions

Religion, culture, and politics give principles that define Human rights. However, there exist multiple religions, cultures, and political systems throughout the world. Each of these quarters defines human rights to reflect their background (COE, 2014). For instance, Christianity prohibits murder or revenge while Islam supports beheading when people commit grave crimes. However, all religions intend to protect human dignity as seen from ancient codes. These differences come as a consequence of human application.

As mentioned above, the folly of human beings poses great obstacles in defining human rights. People seek to satisfy their selfish interests at the expense of other members of society. Today, in the UK, the crown has the power to intervene on matters regarding the rights of citizens (TNA, 2014). Jeremy Bentham once said that the notion of equality does not exist and that seeking natural rights often leads to anarchy (Clapham, 2007). Many other scholars and philosophers will refute this as egocentric.

The western world has a rather problematic definition of human rights. The Magna Carter (2015), an agreement between King John and English barons, poses to protect the rights of all parties. In reality, it only represents a political solution working in the interests of property owners (Clapham, 2007).


All people have a right to live in a dignified manner (COE, 2014). The human rights concept almost guarantees dignified living. It is, however, important to note that the history of human rights has seen the term portray conflicting definitions. Selfish interests coupled with a multiplicity of culture, religion, and political ideologies pose challenges to a definition that is agreeable to everyone.


Clapham, A. (2007). Human rights: A very short introduction. US: Oxford University Press.

COE. (2014). European Convention on Human Rights. Web.

TNA. (2014). Human Rights Act 1998. Web.