The Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries by Michael J. Perry. Oxford University Press, NY, 1998; 162 pages, ISBN 0-19-511636-4, hardback, $40.00.
scholar examines four questions related to human rights in clear, easy-to-read academic prose:
whether there is a a coherent secular account of the idea of human rights;
the meaning and value of talk about human rights; whether human rights are
universal; and whether human rights are absolute. I didn't find several of
his arguments convincing, but they certainly provoke thought. For
example, in the first essay, which maintains that there are no coherent
secular arguments for human rights, he stacks the deck by demanding
that such arguments show that human life is "sacred"
loaded term in such a debate. Admitting that secular people value
human life equally as those subscribing to a spiritual tradition, he argues
that secular arguments won't impress human rights violators enough to make
them stop. I would contend that spiritual arguments have not proved
effective over the millennia in convincing those who wish to violate others'
rights to act otherwise. Moreover, he presents Nietzsche as the
quintessence of the secular argument for morality and the sacredness of the
individual, which is like holding up Tertullian as representing the most
cogent arguments for Christian belief. Nonetheless, his essays bring
up many interesting points, and the many quotes he uses are particularly
– Sally Dougherty (April 2010)