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Amber Kavka-Warren '11 Spends Summer Researching Human Rights

Amber Kavka-Warren '11 Spends
Summer Researching Human Rights

by William Hopkins '11

Amber Kavka-Warren '11
Amber Kavka-Warren '11

"What are human rights?"  "What can philosophy say about them?" "Can we say anything practical about them?"

These are the questions Amber Kavka-Warren '11, an honors major in philosophy and minor in linguistics, has spent the summer trying to answer. Inspired by Justice, taught by Professor and Chair of Philosophy Peter Baumann, Kavka-Warren approached Henry C. and Charlotte Turner Professor of Philosophy Hans Oberdiek for help refining her interest in political philosophy. Together, they developed a research project funded by a Eugene M. Lang Summer Initiative grant.

According to Kavka-Warren, human rights as they are understood today are a relatively recent phenomenon, growing out of the tradition of natural rights that philosophers have discussed since Descartes. The distinction is an important one, she says, because human rights place a burden on nation-states to enforce them.

Philosophers like Henry Shue, Charles Beitz, Joseph Raz, and H.L.A. Hart have all impacted Kavka-Warren's project. "Most philosophers writing on human rights today agree that they aren't finished yet," she says. The center of her project is a critique of Beitz's The Idea of Human Rights.

Kavka-Warren previously spent a summer inventorying Cornell Science Library and says that independent research is a much different experience. "I consider myself a campus nomad," she says. "I travel between the libraries, Papazian Hall [home of the philosophy department], and anywhere else with air conditioning. It's a lot like finals week, but you have on project for the whole summer. It allows you perspective you don't get during the year."