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Human Rights and Socioeconomic Inequality

Culture and languages

In the Research seminar in Practical Philosophy and Political Theory Lena Halldenius, Professor of Human Rights Studies at Lund University, will give a talk entitled Human Rights and Socioeconomic Inequality.

14 Oct 2020
13:15 - 15:00
Online via Zoom

Lena Halldenius, Professor of Human Rights Studies at Lund University
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The talk will be given in English. If you would like to attend please contact Olle Blomberg via email or Teams.
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science

The seminar in Practical Philosophy and Political Theory is a collaboration between the Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science and the Department of Political Science.


In political philosophy we are used to thinking about socioeconomic justice as a relational question, to do with how people fare in relation to others, for instance regarding distribution of resources. There is little or no focus on absolute poverty, since the relational or distributive question typically is held to fall by the wayside if needs are too dire. Within philosophy of human rights, the reverse holds. Socioeconomic justice is here non-relational, to do with fixed standards and satisfaction of certain goods at a level deemed sufficient. The sufficiency level is conceptualized in terms of "adequate" or "thresholds" and refers to something considered within the theory to be of appropriate ethical significance, like a decent life or human capabilities. How people fare in relation to others – at least above the sufficiency line – is not a human rights concern. If inequalities above the sufficiency line are unjust, they must be so for other reasons than human rights reasons and they can be bracketed as long as human rights is the idiom in which we theorise.

In their different ways, standard relational accounts in political philosophy and fixed standards accounts in human rights theory both have the unsavoury consequence of either implicitly justifying substantial inequalities and deprivations or write them off as irrelevant, prompting the question what and who these theories are for. In this presentation I will argue, against the mainstream in human rights philosophy, that socioeconomic inequality is and should be a human rights concern. I will try to tease out some implications of that for how human rights need to be articulated. This leads us, I will suggest, to rethink the deontic human rights logic, to incorporate "social determinants" in what human rights satisfaction require, and, regarding the non-fulfilment of rights, to concentrate more on vulnerability and exposure and less on action and events.