Human Rights Theories:

- Classical Perspectives: Aristotle

- Modern Perspectives: Immanuel Kant



Human Rights Theories

Contemporary Perspectives: H.L.A Hart

H.L.A Hart

H.L.A Hart (1907 – 1992) is one of the many theorists on human rights and law who believes that there is one basic natural law from which we derive the moral relationship which we have with each other. Hart claims that if we can recognize the existence of at least one basic or natural right, it is the equal right to liberty. This right is implied negatively as a basis for justifying interference in the freedom of others to ultimately be able to protect the liberty of all persons. Based upon this idea of the freedom of men being a natural right, emerge two principle concepts that make this right to liberty function. In essence Hart contends that firstly, there is a “right to forbearance on the part of all others from the use of coercion or restraint against him (the individual).”, and secondly that the man “is at liberty to do any action which is not one coercing or restraining or designed to injure other persons.” Within the realm of the right to liberty, each man consequently is able to stop others from coercing him, and may do whatever he feels the need to do as long as it does not endanger or threaten others. What is interesting to note, is that these two principle concepts are what establish moral and natural relationships between individuals of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.
Hart theory is further based upon the idea of the equal right of all men being a NATURAL right. This idea is very closely linked to today’s definition of what a human right is: A right that you have simply for being a human. Hart believes that equality is a natural right for two reasons:

  1. All men have this right and it is not restricted on conditions of what society one belongs to or in what special relation one stands to others.
  2. This right does not arise from men’s voluntary action.

The right to equality therefore can be deemed natural because it is based upon universality for all men, which one does not need to gain as one automatically and “naturally” is in possession of the right.  
In its rudimentary form, the statement “I have a right to…” is generally used in two main situations as Hart observes. The use of the phrase in these two situations is what distinguishes special and general rights from each other, which are a fundamental characteristic within human rights natures and theories. In the first instance, the claimant has some special justification for interference with another’s freedom which other people will not have. An example of the use of “I have a right to…” in the situation described would be “I have a right to be paid that was promised for my service.” This qualifies as a special right because it arises out of a specific “deal” or “transaction” between individuals. In the second instance, the claimant is concerned with objecting to some interference by another person into his freedom without any specific justifications. For instance “I have a right to say what I think” qualifies as a general right due to a number of reasons. General rights are usually asserted defensively to point out when interference is unjustified. Furthermore, general rights do not arise from transactions between individuals in contrast to special rights.