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Human Rights

Reception Of The Classic Theories

Locke's theory, then, stated an integrated position that drew on many of the earlier strands of human rights thought. In turn, the eighteenth century would see the extension, refinement, and, in some respects, radicalization of the fundamentals of the Lockean doctrine. Locke's language was adopted, for instance, by both theorists and polemicists who sought to halt Europe's complicity in the global slave trade. Likewise, defenders of the equal rights of women to political and social power, such as Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), framed their ideas in the language of rights. Critics of natural nobility and other claims to inborn human inequality invoked the universality of rights as the basis of their assertion of the equal worth and dignity of all people, regardless of birth, class, or occupation. Among the most famous of these was Thomas Paine (1737–1809), whose treatise on The Rights of Man (1789) was read and admired on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, Lockean natural rights theory received its share of criticism during the eighteenth century as well, whether from communalist democrats such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) or from more individualistic proponents of political economy such as Adam Smith (1723–1790).

Yet, in general, the 1700s may well be regarded as the "century of human rights." The American Declaration of Independence (1776), written by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), reaffirmed the "self-evidential" character of human rights. The elaboration of the Lockean stance during the eighteenth century perhaps enjoyed its European apotheosis in the post-Revolutionary French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789). The declaration, which forms perhaps the major source for all later declarations of human rights, proclaims that the aim of civil life was "the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man"—they nearly included woman, too—including political, economic, social, religious, and cultural rights as well as resistance to tyranny.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHuman Rights - Stoicism And Roman Jurisprudence, Christianity And Medieval Contributions, Modern Natural Rights, The Reformation And Its Aftermath