UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pragmatism, philosophy and international politics : the Unesco Committee on the Philosophic Principles of the Rights of Man and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Danilovic, Alexander Gordon


In January 1947 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR) held its First Session, the primary object of which was to draft a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, during the debates at this session the ideological and philosophical differences between the delegates were of such intensity that it appeared that the project would be unable to proceed. What this thesis examines is the role of the Unesco Committee on the Philosophic Principles of the Rights of Man in resolving the philosophical and ideological impasse faced by the CHR. Specifically, this study examines the Unesco Committee's project to ascertain the philosophic bases of human rights, which was undertaken parallel to the work of the First and Second Sessions of the CHR, the First Session of the CHR's Drafting Committee and the drafting of the preliminary Declaration by Canadian John Humphrey, the director of the Human Rights Division (HRD) of the UN Secretariat. This study analyzes the relationship between these various processes, and the motives and objectives of Unesco in undertaking its project. The method of investigation includes an analysis of CHR records and documents, primary Unesco documents, inclusive of personal letters and reports, and the memoirs and writings of key figures in the drafting of the Declaration and Unesco, such as Humphrey and Julian Huxley, the first Director General of Unesco. Based on this review of documents a conclusion was drawn that key actors from the CHR, the HRD and Unesco closely cooperated with the intention of constructing precisely the philosophical and ideological conclusions, and pragmatic human rights structure, required to resolve the CHR's ideological impasse, and provide the necessary philosophical rationalizations to justify Humphrey's preliminary draft and the version of the Declaration ultimately proclaimed.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.