Volume 90, Issue 3, July 2013
Happiness and Well-Being
Human Rights and the Minimally Good Life
All people have human rights and, intuitively, there is a close connection between human rights, needs, and autonomy. The two main theories about the nature
and value of human rights often fail to account for this connection. Interest theories, on which rights protect individuals’ important interests, usually fail to capture
the close relationship between human rights and autonomy; autonomy is not constitutive of the interests human rights protect. Will theories, on which human rights protect individuals’ autonomy, cannot explain why the nonautonomous have a human right to meet their needs. This paper argues that it is possible to account for the close connection between human rights, needs, and autonomy if human rights at least protect individuals’ ability to live minimally good lives. It argues that people need whatever will enable them to live such lives and autonomy is partly constitutive of such a life. This argument also has important
implications for some other key debates in the human rights literature.