Front Page Titles (by Subject) Human Rights Scholarship - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Human Rights Scholarship - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Human Rights Scholarship
“Some Recent Work in Human Rights Theory.” American Philosophical Quarterly 17(April 1980):103–115.
This is basically a comprehensive survey of systematic discussions of human rights since about 1950. Machan divides human rights theories into essentially two groups, noncognitivists—those who deny that anyone knows that there are human rights and maintain, roughly, that by “human rights” we mean some general social preferences or presuppositions of moral discourse—and cognitivists or natural rights theorists—those who hold that human rights are principles we know to be binding on persons in a social context or basic conditions of a good human community based on human nature. The noncognitivists include Margarette Macdonald, Joel Fienberg, A. I. Melden, Wm. T. Blackstone, et al., while the cognitivists include Ayn Rand, Eric Mack, Alan Gewirth, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick (uneasily), et al.
After analyzing these theorists' positions Machan offers a list of problems still left with human rights theories. Noncognitivists all tend to fall prey to relativism and arbitrariness, while cognitivist or natural rights theorists have failed thus far to appreciate the enormous depth of philosophical work need to justify their case. Nevertheless, there are better and worse tries thus far. While Rand's objectivist theory of human rights has depth, it lacks the requisite detail to make the argument succeed. Mack's argument, in turn, is far more meticulous but it omits the treatment of various epistemological and metaphysical issues most critics of natural rights theories rightly demand. Nozick's “argument from best explanation” approach is hardly a complete defense of individual rights and encounters problems by combining Hobbesian and more humanistic conceptions of human nature. Gewirth fails to treat objections to his crucial assumptions about the purposiveness of human action. He also treats as if they had the same political standing both the right to freedom, which is general, and the right to the enabling conditions (making actions possible for children), which is special. Dworkin promises objective standards of his political principles but does not deliver them, thus resting his seriousness about rights on little more than quicksand. Still, all these more recent discussions seriously advance the discussion of human rights theory, beyond its earlier confusions and neglect.