The Nature of Human Rights


This essay is dedicated to one of the most disputed questions in philosophy. The nature of human rights and democracy has been the subject of debate for philosophers and politicians for many centuries. Democracy existed in a variety of forms long before its modern meaning. The paper defends the view that human rights are granted by governments; the main thesis is that the position of rights being granted by the government seems more solid than the position of rights being an inborn quality of every person. The essay provides an analysis of several prominent philosophers’ opinions on human rights and democracy, suggesting counterarguments and rebuttals. The conclusion affirms the position that human rights are dependent on the government.

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The theory of human rights has always been one of the most controversial and highly disputed subjects of philosophy and politics. Some scholars defend the opinion that people’s rights are inborn, while others believe that such rights can only be given by the government. Since there is more evidence affirming the latter viewpoint, the position of rights being granted by the government seems more solid than the position of rights being inborn.

Human Rights and Their Dependence on Governments

In his scrutinizing of the Declaration of Rights, Bentham (2001) remarks that despite the postulates of the Declaration, people are not born with equal opportunities and prospects. Neither do they have identical rights at birth or even further on in life. Thus, Bentham’s (2001) ideas support the notion that rights are not inborn features. Only a government has the power to establish rights and distribute them to people. Indeed, Bentham calls natural laws “imaginary” and considers legal rights to be the only possible ones.

Another definition of human rights is suggested by Burke (2001), who argues that people have equal rights as long as they exist separately. However, when they live in a community, their rights are different. People’s rights may be equal, but they cannot own equal things. For instance, a person who has more money has more power, which enables him or her to have different rights than a poorer person. Thus, again, it is clear that true rights are established by the government and not by nature.

Democracy and Its Origins

Democracy has been debated for many centuries. The premises for this notion existed as early as Ancient Greece and Rome (Dahl, 2000a). However, it is impossible to say that democracy began at a definite time in a particular place; rather, it has appeared numerous times in various places, with different shades of meaning. After all, democracy can emerge anywhere in which appropriate conditions exist (Dahl, 2000a). Such favorable circumstances might have promoted democracy long before the recorded cases. One of the driving forces behind democracy is a sense of equality. People have always wanted their rights to be defended, and with this aim, they put their fate in the hands of the most experienced among them. However, this approach has limitations in the context of growing communities. The more people there are, the fewer can take part in making decisions.

The democratic process is characterized by the following principles: sufficient participation, thorough perception, fair voting systems, supervision of the agenda, and involvement of adults (Dahl, 2000b). These criteria enable democratic governments to form states. When considering that human rights are formed by governments, democracy plays a crucial role. In accordance with the social contract theory, people tend to entrust their rights to the government and tolerate limitations in exchange for the protection of their rights.

Limitations of the Argument and Counterarguments

This argument’s limitations are related to the issue of people placing too much trust in governments’ democratic endeavors. Not all governments give people the necessary freedoms and rights.

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A counterargument to this paper’s opinion is the philosophy of Aristotle. In opposition to the opinion of human rights being entitled by governments, Aristotle believes that state governments are natural (Aristotle, 2001). In his philosophy, he argues that city-states develop from more basic natural organizations and act as their final destination once self-sufficiency has been achieved. Another one of Aristotle’s opinions is that people are political animals because nature has given them the ability to speak, making it possible to share moral perceptions such as justice. Finally, Aristotle argues that the city-state precedes individuals because they cannot operate without the city-state due to their own insufficiency (Aristotle, 2001). However, there is a flaw in Aristotle’s opinion on how the city-state should be built. He believes that the government should be comprised of middle-class citizens, while the author of this paper argues that all ranks of citizens should be able to participate.

Another counterargument is presented by Cicero (2001). In his theory, he argues that all human rights are entitled by nature. According to Cicero (2001), nature gives people the power to distinguish between good and bad, and thus people should be responsible for their rights. However, this point of view is also flawed because in reality, the law has more power than nature, and government decisions are more constructive than natural perceptions.


However desirable it may be for people to have rights from birth, they are entitled to their freedoms not by nature but by the government. Therefore, the question of democracy is a crucial issue in philosophical and political discussions. Democracy has a very long history and has taken many forms throughout history. One feature is common for all democratic governments – they aim to defend human rights and give people freedom of choice.


Aristotle. (2001). Politics. In P. Hayden (Ed.), Philosophy of human rights: Readings in context (pp. 24-33). New York: Paragon House.

Bentham, J. (2001). Anarchical fallacies: A critical examination of the Declaration of Rights. In P. Hayden (Ed.), Philosophy of human rights: Readings in context (pp. 119-125). New York: Paragon House.

Burke, E. (2001). Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). In P. Hayden (Ed.), Philosophy of human rights: Readings in context (pp. 88-94). New York: Paragon House.

Cicero. (2001). On the laws. In P. Hayden (Ed.), Philosophy of human rights: Readings in context (pp. 34-42). New York: Paragon House.

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Dahl, R. (2000a). Where and how did democracy develop? In R. Dahl (Ed.), On democracy (pp. 7-25). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Dahl, R. (2000b). What is democracy? In R. Dahl (Ed.), On democracy (pp. 35-61). New Haven: Yale University Press.

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