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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PIED3608 Philosophy of Human Rights

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dr Kerri Woods

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

What are human rights? Why do we have them? How do we know for sure which rights are really human rights? How should we respond when we disagree on them and on the obligations we owe to others who claim human rights? Are human rights part of 'a' culture, 'our' culture, or a 'universal' culture?Human rights are embedded in national and international legal and political practice and are widely accepted as minimum moral standards. The status of human rights is almost taken for granted – if something is a human right then it ought to be respected, and we all have duties to that end.Nevertheless, many questions about the nature and justification of human rights are the subject of on-going controversy in moral and political theory. To understand and evaluate these issues, students on this module will engage with a range of normative and conceptual questions in contemporary human rights theory.This module offers students the opportunity to reflect critically on a legal, moral and political framework that is part of the fabric of the modern world.


1. To introduce students to the conceptual and normative issues at stake in contemporary human rights theory
2. To enable students to develop their analytical skills by reading and reflecting on the work of a number of theorists who have tried to address these issues.
3. To introduce students to the complexities and challenges of thinking critically and philosophically about a legal, moral and political framework that is an established and widely accepted part of contemporary practice.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students should be able to demonstrate:
1. Knowledge and understanding of key debates and issues in contemporary human rights theory.
2. An understanding of the status of human rights as a national and international legal, moral and political framework.
3. An understanding of the complexity of reflecting critically on human rights as a widely accepted practice.

On successful completion of this module, students should also have developed:

1. Their analytical skills in reading, understanding and evaluating complex arguments.
2. Their ability to research, assess and organise relevant information.
3. Their ability to articulate a reasoned argument in both spoken and written forms.
4. Their ability to reflect on their own learning and make use of constructive feedback.


The module covers a range of topics and approaches in human rights theory, from the philosophical foundations of human rights – looking at concepts like dignity, personhood, and the idea of a human rights culture – to questions of relativism and universalism, and to the ethics and politics of specific categories of human rights such as social and economic rights, cultural and religious rights, environmental rights, gender-based rights.

The specific topics studied may vary from year to year, reflecting the development of ongoing debates in contemporary human rights theory.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours178.00
Total Contact hours22.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Students are asked to read key chapters/articles listed in the module reading list in preparation for seminar discussions, Critical Responses, and their essay.

Students will be provided with lecture notes in the form of power point slides in advance of lectures, and will also be provided with seminar preparation questions to guide their reading.

Students will have the opportunity to discuss a bullet-point plan with their seminar tutor in preparation for written assessments.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Formative assessment:
Student contribution to weekly seminars discussions.
Opportunities for individual discussions outside seminar times in staff office hours.
Opportunities for students to receive verbal feedback on a bullet-point plan prior to written assessments.

Formative assessment:

Students will be asked to submit one Critical Response mid-term (1000 words) on one specific text from the reading list as a non assessed piece of work

The Critical Response fosters in students in depth engagement with one specific argument and develops students’ skills in critical analysis. This exercise will be familiar to students as it forms part of the assessment on the pre-requisite modules.

Students will receive feedback on their success in this exercise and should feed that into their plan for, and execution of, the assessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 X 3000 End of Term Essay70.00
Literature Review1 x 1000 Literature Review30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 12/05/2023 15:47:18


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