On subsistence and human rights
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The central question I address is whether the inclusion of a right to subsistence among human rights can be justified. The human right to subsistence is conventionally interpreted as a fundamental right to a basic living standard characterized as having access to the material means for subsistence. It is widely thought to entail duties of protection against deprivation and duties of assistance in acquiring access to the material means for subsistence (Shue 1996, Nickel, 2004, Griffin 2008). The inclusion of a right to subsistence among human rights interpreted in this way has been met with considerable resistance, particularly on the part of those who argue that fundamental rights cannot entail positive duties (Cranston 1983, Narveson 2004, O’Neill 1996, 2000, 2005). My purpose in this dissertation is to consider whether a plausible interpretation of the human right to subsistence can succeed in overcoming the most forceful and persistent objections to it. My main thesis is that a minimal interpretation of the human right to subsistence according to which it is a right not to be deprived of access to the means for subsistence provides the strongest interpretation of this right. Although the idea that the human right to subsistence correlates with negative duties is not new, discussion of these duties has been overshadowed in the literature by debate over the positive duties conventionally thought to be entailed by it. I show that the human right to subsistence interpreted as a right not to be deprived of access to the means for subsistence makes an important contribution to reasoning about the normative implications of global poverty.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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