Research Paper Number



John J. Wilson

View the research paper on SSRN here.

Document Type


Publication Date



Human Rights; Value Theory


In this paper, I argue that the contemporary human rights literature would benefit from a shift in focus. Recent accounts of the source and status of human rights have been preoccupied with locating -- or failing to locate -- those fundamental features of persons which would provide a universal grounding for what we call 'human rights.' These accounts have found limited success. Here, I suggest that we ought to move our attention away from the features of rational agents, acting individually or collectively, to the tools with which they are actually acting. That is, we need to fully understand the nature of reasons before we can properly grasp the rights owed to all reasoners. The paper appeals to recent work in value theory about the connection between reasons and value to moderate a debate between Brian Slattery and Alan Gewirth. Ultimately, it argues that a particular understanding of agent-neutral reasons -- reasons as intersubjectively created and shared between agents of equal value -- must undergird any plausible human rights account. The paper concludes by suggesting that it is our capacity as reasoners and, therefore, as the source of value, which provides the best foundation for an account of human rights.