Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit


PHIL100 Philosophy: the Big Questions OR PHIL102 Theories of Human Nature OR PHIL104 Introduction to Ethics OR PHIL107 Philosophy of World Religions OR PHCC102 Being Human OR PHCC104 Ethics and the Good Life

Unit rationale, description and aim

In order to engage with complex matters pertaining to Human Rights, it is important to have an understanding of the nature and history of the concept of human rights, where the idea came from, and why it is important. This unit exposes students to a number of philosophical perspectives on the nature, ground, and structure of rights along with the various arguments used to justify the existence of rights. It pays particular attention to the ways that rights are understood to operate and impact human action. For instance, it explores reasons for ascribing rights to persons and seeks answers to what persons may or may not do or claim with their rights. It also examines the purpose and aim of rights—are they primarily used to secure vital interests or do they create a space for free choice? The unit may also explore the way that rights serve political or social functions and interact with government institutions. The unit aims to enable students to develop an effective conceptual understanding of rights as well as to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage constructively on important social and political issues. It also aims to enhance the kinds of critical thinking skills that are important across a range of occupations and professions.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Explain some of the central problems and key theories in social and political philosophy (GA5)

LO2 - Critically analyse selected contemporary debates in the field concerning, and develop coherent and consistent positions in relation to them (GA4, GA8)

LO3 - Demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and clear use of philosophically effective English expression (GA5, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • Hohfeldian analytical conception of rights;
  • will/choice theory of rights vs. interest/benefit theory of rights;
  • rights, dignity and the value/status of the person;
  • group and individual rights;
  • natural law and rights;
  • rationality of rights and their relationship to utility;
  • positive and negative rights and duties;
  • Marxist, African or Confucian critiques of rights.
  • rights and political obligations.

Applications will be made, as appropriate, to practical issues such as:

  • the operation of rights in political and social settings; 
  • distributive justice and retributive justice;
  • rights of rectification and reparations. 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

The unit has been designed as a blend of direct instruction and project learning with a strong collaborative component. The direct instruction ensures that students develop a strong understanding of important philosophical concepts and theories and how they relate to the ethical problems under investigation, while the collaborative learning enables the students to apply those concepts and theories critically and reflectively to the issues at hand. These forms of classroom instruction and engagement are designed to support students’ attainment of the learning outcomes. Students will be asked to engage in class discussions, provide written critiques of significant theories, and present their reasoned opinion on distinct philosophical positions, after being introduced to them through readings and lectures.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit has been designed to examine students’ understanding of the philosophical issues and theories under consideration and deepen their ability to analyse and critically reflect on those issues and theories. It does so through a mix of individual analysis and discussion-based projects. The written analysis task examines understanding of key issues, concepts and debates. The oral presentation task examines critical thinking skills applied to this field, as well as skills in both oral and written communication/ engagement. The research essay examines higher level critical analysis and written argumentation skills in the field of philosophy.   

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Written analysis task

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.




Analysis and Discussion task

Requires students to demonstrate critical thinking skills in dialogue with others.  


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8

Research Essay

Requires students to critically analyse an important debate in the field and to develop a coherent position.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Beitz, C. (2009). The Idea of Human Rights. Oxford University Press.

Hart, H. (1955).  “Are There Any Natural Rights?” Philosophical Review, 64: 175–191.

Hohfeld, W. (1919). Fundamental Legal Conceptions. W. Cook (ed.). Yale University Press.

Marx, K. (1844). “On the Jewish Question” D. McLellan (ed.) Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Oxford University Press.

Waldron, J. (1984). Theories of Rights. Oxford University Press.

Wenar, L. (2013). “The Nature of Claim-Rights,” Ethics, 123: 202–29

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