The talk has two main aims:
First, it will discuss some of the main current attacks on the idea of human rights. These attacks stem from history, normative theory, human psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. The scientific and political background of these critiques is heterogeneous, but all threaten to undermine human rights as ethical concepts, political projects, and legal institutions. The talk will try to show that none of these attacks delegitimizes the project of human rights. Second, it will try to argue, that a sufficiently complex account of the history of this idea’s slow growth, of its normative theory and - importantly – of its roots in human moral cognition only strengthens the case for human rights. There is much reason to criticize current ethical conceptions, the political practice, and the constitutional, supranational, and international law of human rights, but no good reason to abandon disenchanted this quite noble idea. The talk is based on Professor Mahlmann's forthcoming book Mind and Rights. Why Human Rights have Deep Roots in Human Psychology, History, Ethics, and Law, to be published with Cambridge University Press this year.
Matthias Mahlmann, University Professor, Chair of Philosophy and Theory of Law, Legal Sociology and International Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Zurich, Switzerland. Since 2005 Recurrent Visiting Professor, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. Visiting professorships at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2007, 2016; Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., 2012; BOK Visiting International Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Philadelphia 2017; since 2018 German-Turkish University, Istanbul.
Research interests: international public law; (comparative) constitutional law; moral and legal philosophy; legal sociology; law, psychology and neuroscience; law and literature.
Legal consultancy and (constitutional) litigation in the fields of international human rights law, constitutional law, public law and European law, predominantly for various public bodies, including the Swiss Federal Government, the Swiss Parliament, the German Parliament and the Commission of the European Union. Current president of the world organization of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR).
While in residence at the Bonavero Institute, he plans to complete a forthcoming book on the justification and epistemology of the human rights idea. The project critically engages with various current historical, theoretical and psychological forms of human rights scepticism and revisionism that add to the many foes the law and politics of human rights have to face today.
It draws among others on his articles: Mind and Rights: Neuroscience, Philosophy, and the Foundations of Legal Justice, in: M.N.S. Sellers (ed.), Law, Reason, and Emotion, Cam-bridge University Press, 2017, pp. 80 – 137; Normative Universalism and Constitutional Pluralism, in: I. Motoc/P. Pinto de Albuquerque/K. Wojtyczek (eds.), New Developments in Constitutional Law, Eleven, 2018, pp. 271 – 295; One Step Too Far. Some Philosophical and Political Reflections on the Current Critique of Human Rights, in: A. Sajó/R. Uitz (eds.), Critical Essays on Human Rights, Eleven, 2020, pp. 67 – 80. For philosophical background cf. his forthcoming book: The Justice of Autonomy.
Matthias Mahlmann has also been appointed as Visiting Fellow of Mansfield College during his visit to Oxford.