Preamble section 1:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,


  1. Where Do Human Rights Come From
  2. Religion
  3. Natural Law
  4. Natural Rights
  5. Legal Positivism
  6. Marxism/Socialism
  7. Controversy
  8. References

Where Do Human Rights Come From

While the language of the Universal Declaration may echo earlier articulations of Human Rights, it does not expressly invoke natural rights, a Supreme Being, human nature, or any other philosophical basis for human rights. This raises the old and vexed question - the very same question that confronted the drafters of the Declaration in June 1947 – of the theoretical or philosophical basis of universal Human Rights. The very term “human rights” points to a source: humanity, human nature, being a person or human being. Legal rights have law as their source, contractual rights arise from contracts, and thus human rights have humanity or human nature as their source (Donnelly, 16).

But how does human nature - how can being a human being - give rise to rights? With law we can point to statute or custom. With contracts there is the act of contracting. How does being human give one rights?

Sources of Rights

This section provides a brief background on some of the main theories that have been advanced by scholars on the question of the basis or “source” of human rights claims. The scholar Jerome Shestack has suggested that the most pertinent theories to the evolution of the human rights idea are religion, natural law, natural rights, legal positivism, and Marxism (Shestack, 75).

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Peter Danchin, Columbia University