The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights

The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights

The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights

The Architecture of Concepts: The Historical Formation of Human Rights

Synopsis

The Architecture of Concepts proposes a radically new way of understanding the history of ideas. Taking as its example human rights, it develops a distinctive kind of conceptual analysis that enables us to see with precision how the concept of human rights was formed in the eighteenth century. The first chapter outlines an innovative account of concepts as cultural entities. The second develops an original methodology for recovering the historical formation of the concept of human rights based on data extracted from digital archives. This enables us to track the construction of conceptual architectures over time. Having established the architecture of the concept of human rights, the book then examines two key moments in its historical formation: the First Continental Congress in 1775 and the publication of Tom Paine's Rights of Man in 1792. Arguing that we have yet to fully understand or appreciate the consequences of the eighteenth-century invention of the concept "rights of man," the final chapter addresses our problematic contemporary attempts to leverage human rights as the most efficacious way of achieving universal equality

Excerpt

This book has three distinct aims. First, it seeks to contribute to our understanding of concepts. Such a contribution is doubtless fraught with difficulty since even a cursory inspection of the very wide range of disciplines and even more disparate discursive locales in which the word concept is used leads to the conclusion that we do not seem to have a very clear sense of what concepts are, or might be. Once one begins, say, to compare how literary or social studies work with the term, or attempts to find a common thread in how philosophy, across its various subdisciplines and areas of inquiry, deploys the word, it rapidly becomes clear that we are a very long way away from something like a general—and certainly generally accepted—theory of concepts. For many, this would seem to cause few problems. Concept, like its close cognates idea or notion, appears to do the work we ask of it while remaining poorly delineated conceptually. But if one is interested in the history of ideas, of how we come to think of certain things the way we do, where things refers not to concrete objects but to abstractions, a theory of concepts, or at least a more detailed account of how concepts are formed and operate over time and how they function in particular local instances of thinking, would be useful. Although in its . . .

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