Guest Editor’s Introduction to Symposium on Allen Buchanan, The Heart of Human Rights

Matthew Lister*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialResearchpeer-review


For many years now Allen Buchanan has been one of the most important theorists working on the philosophy of human rights, producing a large number of papers and two books significantly devoted to the topic. In the work under consideration in this symposium, Buchanan breaks new ground by examining what he claims to be the ‘heart’ of international human rights practice – the international legal human rights (‘ILHR’) system, subjecting it to moral and philosophical analysis and criticism. This system, and not an account of independent moral human rights, provides the core of human rights practice, supplying it with its lingua franca and setting universal standards for the behavior of states. Despite its important place in human rights practice, Buchanan contends, the ILHR system, understood as a system of legal rights, has largely been ignored by philosophers, who have instead focused on providing an account of moral human rights. This traditional approach to human rights
holds that legitimate legal human rights must be grounded in, or ‘mirror’ more fundamental, pre-legal, moral human rights. Rejecting this ‘mirroring view’, Buchanan argues that ILHR need not be dependent on pre-existing moral rights for their justification. Furthermore, given the complex role that ILHR play in the international legal system, they could not be grounded, at least not fully, in such
pre-existing moral rights. The mirroring view, therefore, fails as an account of ILHR, Buchanan contends.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-120
Number of pages6
JournalLaw and Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Guest Editor’s Introduction to Symposium on Allen Buchanan, The Heart of Human Rights'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this