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Understanding rights


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, History of Political Philosophy or Griekse en Romeinse filosofie, Ethiek, Politieke filosofie / Political Philosophy.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Greek and Roman Antiquity, World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Ethics, Political Philosophy.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package B.


What do we mean when we say, “you do not have a right to do it?” or, conversely, “It is my right to do it?” What are we expecting others to do, or refrain from doing? And who is the other we are addressing?

This course aims at discussing these and other related questions and possible convincing answers, by exploring different theories, focusing on the distinction between liberty and claim rights, rights as constraints or trumps and presenting the will theory and the interest theory of rights.

We will proceed by asking who are the rightsholders, whether we do have natural rights, and what rights we should have and why, including the right to liberty and to do wrong. Having determined what rights are, we will analyze two rights in particular, the right to civilly disobey and the right to participate in the democratic decision-making process of one’s state.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to provide students with a detailed knowledge of the major theories of rights and to give them the tools to question them.

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • a good understanding of the concept of rights;

  • insight into the contemporary debates about what rights are, and what they serve for.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • present their ideas in a critical manner both orally and in written form;

  • form arguments based on the major theories of rights;

  • write a paper presenting an original idea of theirs, engaging critically with important literature on the issues discussed.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar
    Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Presentation of a paper from the reading list (10%)

  • Debate** (10%)

  • A short reflection (500-600 words) on a paper – different from the one chosen for the in-class presentation (20%)

  • Final paper of about 2500 words (60%)

** We will choose the topic to be discussed during the debate during our first week of class. The grade will result from two parts: Students will be graded as a team and individually.

NB. If you need special adjustments, it is your right to receive them, please contact the instructor if that is the case to try and find the most appropriate for you.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


If the final mark is unsatisfactory, there is an option for re-examination by writing a paper. The mark for the new paper will replace previously earned marks. Class participation and the presentation are required for taking the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

To be announced on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga