Research Paper Number


View the research paper on SSRN here.

Document Type


Publication Date



Human Rights, International Legal Theory, John Finnis, Law and Ethics, Natural Law Theory


The contemporary literature on the philosophy of human rights features a clash between two opposing theoretical paradigms. The first paradigm, called Functionalism, grounds the nature of human rights in their practical or political significance. The second paradigm, called Foundationalism, grounds the nature of human rights in a pre-political substratum of moral thought to which positive legal-political institutions ought to conform. What tends to make the first paradigm more appealing is that it avoids the problem of grounding human rights in moral considerations that may be ethnocentric and thus not acceptable to all peoples everywhere. This paper makes a case for a version of Foundationalism called Natural Law Foundationalism, which has often been overlooked in the contemporary literature. It argues that Natural Law Foundationalism is a promising view because it is capable of confronting the ethnocentricity problem more effectively than other versions of Foundationalism. It also argues that the view can deliver on its promise because its main tenets have sufficient philosophical defensibility.