module specification

GI7002 - History and Theory of Human Rights (2022/23)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2022/23
Module title History and Theory of Human Rights
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences and Professions
Total study hours 200
42 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
86 hours Assessment Preparation / Delivery
72 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 50%   Essay 2,500 words
Coursework 50%   Essay 2,500
Running in 2022/23

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Tuesday Evening

Module summary

 History and Theory of Human Rights critically engages contemporary scholarship and debate about the political history and moral and political theory of human rights. It follows recent analyses of the mediaeval, Enlightenment and American histories of rights doctrine, paying especial attention to Immanuel Kant’s moral universalism, to the realism of his doctrine of right, and to his importance for contemporary liberalism and rights theory. It explores issues of historical relativism and cultural particularity in various ways but especially through analysis of UNESCO’s famous human rights symposium and of Alasdair MacIntyre’s infamously realist critique. The historical context and significance of Jacques Maritain’s theorisation of human rights is evaluated, in relation to the formation Europe’s human rights regime and to non-European traditions, and so too is John Rawls’ retheorisation of moral and political rights-based liberalisms. Contemporary academic debate about human rights focusses on the rival claims advanced by historians and moral theorists for the superiority of their respective approaches. Historians, led by Samuel Moyn, have recently had the best of this, although John Tasioulas has long promised a rebuttal. Participants in the module scrutinize such debate and engage in the intellectually demanding task of evaluating rival theories..

Module aims

To provide a historical and critical introduction to ideas, theories and arguments about human rights.
To evaluate political, social, legal and economic institutions and actions by ethical criteria.
To explore ethical ideas and to articulate such ideas in the construction of logical arguments.


Universalist Justification of Human Rights LO1, LO4
Myth and Politics in the History of Human Rights LO2, LO4
Fallacy and Validity in Relativist Accounts of Human Rights LO2, LO4
Rawls and Rivals LO3, LO4

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled lectures and seminars are supported by Weblearn and students’ independent reading of recommended reading and research. Students are required to make a seminar presentation and to participate in critical discussion of lectures and presentations.

Learning outcomes

 On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
1) differentiate and evaluate competing justificationss, interpretations and critiques of the idea of human rights;
2) outline and explain the philosophical, political and economic developments that have effected and affected the pursuit of human rights in Western history;
3) identify and evaluate the cultural and political effects of contemporary human rights discourse in the light of that discourse's particular history and institutional universalization;
4) present and defend a logical argument supported by relevant evidence.

Assessment strategy

 Two essays of approximately 2,500 words each, submitted together, requiring students to demonstrate their understanding of the history of the theory and discourse of human rights and its contemporary significance and, also, their ability to critically evaluate the premises and logical structure of at least one argument for human rights.
one on theorist
one on history


 Core text

Moyn, Samuel  The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, Harvard University Press, 2010.

Other texts

Chappel, James Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking
   of the Church, Harvard University Press, 2018.

Duranti, Marco  The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity,
   Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention,
   Oxford University Press, 2017.

Etinson, Adam, ed. Human Rights: Moral or Political?, Oxford University Press, 2018.

Goodale, Mark, Letters to the Contrary: A Curated History of the UNESCO Human
ed.   Rights Survey, Stanford University Press, 2018.

Guyer, Paul   Kant, Routledge, 2014 (2nd edn.).

Hoffmann,  "Human Rights and History", Past and Present 232, 279-310, 2016.

Kant, Immanuel Practical Philosophy, trans. & ed. Mary J. Gregor, Cambridge University
   Press, 1996,

Knight, Kelvin  Freedom’s Useful Name: Politics’ Primacy in Human Rights’ Declaratory
   Moment, Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Knight, Kelvin, &     The MacIntyre Reader, University of Notre Dame Press, 2019 (2nd
Peter Wicks edd. edn.).

Krasnoff, Larry, Kant’s Doctrine of Right in the Twenty-first Century, University of
Nuria Sánchez  Wales Press, 2018.
Madrid & Paula
Satne edd.

Lamb, Robert  “Historicising the Idea of Human Rights”, Political Studies
   (forthcoming), 2018.

MacIntyre, Alasdair After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Duckworth, 2007 (3rd edn.).

Maritain, Jacques “The Rights of Man and Natural Law” (trans. Doris C. Anson), in idem,
   Christianity and Democracy and The Rights of Man and Natural Law,
   Ignatius Press, 2012.

Moyn, Samuel  Christian Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Rawls, John  A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, 1999 (2nd edn.).

Rawls, John  Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, 2005 (3rd edn.).

Tasioulas, John        Human Rights: From Morality to Law, Oxford University Press, 2019.

Waldron, Jeremy Nonsense upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man,
   Methuen, 1987.


Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political And Legal Philosophy

Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development

Human Rights Quarterly

Political Theory