Could We Be Wrong About Human Rights?

Prompted by a question from a reader, this post is about human rights. Schools often cover this subject but it can be more of a celebration than enquiry, since human rights are generally considered A Very Good Thing.

There are many philosophically interesting questions about human rights, but you generally need to find “some salt to go with the sugar”. Here’s 10 contestable conversation starters:

  1. Were human rights invented or discovered?
  2. Are human rights “human” because humans made them up, or because they are necessary for humans to flourish?
  3. What is it about humans that entitles them to rights that we don’t give to animals?
  4. If our laws did not recognise human rights, would we still have them?
  5. If people voted not to have human rights, would they disappear or would they still have them?
  6. Are there situations in which human rights are less important than something else?
  7. How can two or more human rights come into conflict with each other? When they do, which should win out?
  8. What would aliens have to be like for them to deserve the same human rights as us?
  9. If a country that doesn’t respect human rights was wealthier as a result, would that mean dropping human rights was the right thing to do? What if it was safer?
  10. Can someone deserve to have their human rights taken away?

Here’s one question from the Year 7 set of Sticky Questions. Next week’s bulletin will kick off a 7-day window in which individual class sets of Sticky Questions will be available. You can read about Sticky Questions here.



Or for a topical example, there’s the question of whether or not the Welsh government’s plan to make religious education lessons compulsory breaches human rights:

Best wishes,



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