16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Emilsson

Anton Emilsson, Lund University.

Possible Human Rights Infringements: On Griffin’s Agent-Restriction


Although Griffin’s On Human Rights (2008) makes for an intriguing piece of work, I argue that he is inconsistent and mistaken about the set of cases which can constitute infringements on the right to liberty. More specifically, I argue that ‘the agent-restriction’ is mistaken in precluding ‘large-scale economic or social events’. Griffin’s conception of the restriction and its implications exhibits an inconsistency with respect to the claim that infringement implies moral criticism—which I show to underlie his discussion. The argument is foremost based on cases discussed by Griffin, concerning structural (potential) infringements of liberty—such as a child’s paucity of options as a native member of a fundamentalist community, or society’s culturally-historically moral ignorance with respect to same-sex couples’ right to marry—which, I argue, plausibly lack an appropriate blameworthy agent; sometimes, even lack an appropriate agent. Implicitly, I suggest that agent-produced events may constitute violations of liberty, without there being any agent with sufficient control for the agent to be culpable for the violation. A very brief introduction to Griffin’s personhood account is included—as to make the criticism more available for the reader.