13 October 2017 from 10:30 to 11:45

PhD thesis defence Jurriën Hamer: a philosophy of fundamental rights

© iStockphoto.com/BCFC
© iStockphoto.com/BCFC

In a battle of words, few weapons are stronger than fundamental rights. However, we don't have a clear idea of what these rights entail. In his dissertation, Jurriën Hamer (Philosophy) develops a theory that helps us to grasp how we should think, argue and speak about fundamental rights. The defence will take place on 13 October.

Fundamental rights

Whether we debate wars, climate change, refugees or healthcare, it always seems to boil down to figuring out out who s an important right to what. One would therefore think we have a clear idea of what these crucial rights standards entail - but one would be wrong. We debate the meaning of fundamental rights as much as we debate who actually violates them. We need to find out if, and if so, why, fundamental rights matter.

Democracy and moral reasoning

This dissertation joins the work of many philosophers, lawyers and activists who have taken up this question, and offers a theory that helps us to grasp how we should think, argue and speak about fundamental rights. The thesis begins by critiquing the work of Jeremy Waldron. It argues that his separation of questions of political authority and moral philosophy is misguided, and that any proper understanding of democracy must be built on strong moral philosophical reasoning.

Agential Pluralism

The thesis then argues we must focus on an adaptation of Alan Gewirth's moral theory of agency, which is called Agential Pluralism. Contrary to Gewirth, whose theory appears to consist of strictly universal conditions, Hamer's theory emphasizes both the importance of securing the generic and safeguarding the particular conditions of acting succesfully. This interpretation is then elaborated and applied to the practice of politics, giving rise to an account of fundamental rights.

Definition of fundamental rights

In the end, the thesis defines fundamental rights, quite simply, as rights to those goods that are of great moral importance. This moral importance is established by arguing a good is essential to realizing a person's rational conception of how his or her life should be lived. The thesis provides no conclusive list of rights, but instead illustrates various paths toward arguing a good can serve as the object of a fundamental right.

Jurriën Hamer
Jurriën Hamer

A walk in the woods

Hamer was interviewed about his dissertation by The Young Philosophers, an initiative of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW). Hamer elaborates on why individual needs should be integrated in a theory of fundamental rights. "Say it is your specific desire to enjoy nature, then besides the fact that it is your own responsibility, it is also other people’s responsibility to see whether they can help you in this. Not because a walk in the woods or a swim in the sea is a universal good, but because you deserve respect for this particular wish."

Does this mean that it is a human right to fulfil all your wishes? "Well, no", Hamer says. "Agential pluralism is a practical, flexible and at the same time philosophically underpinned starting point for our thinking about human rights. We can use it to investigate which responsibilities people have in order to fulfil their own wishes, when governments must play a part in this, and which moral rights must be codified into law."

Start date and time
13 October 2017 10:30
End date and time
13 October 2017 11:45
PhD candidate
Jurriën Hamer
Agential Pluralism. A Philosophy of Fundamental Rights
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. Marcus Düwell
Dr Rutger Claassen
Entrance fee
Free of charge