Repository logo

Dignity neuroscience: universal rights are rooted in human brain science.

Published version

Change log



Universal human rights are defined by international agreements, law, foreign policy, and the concept of inherent human dignity. However, rights defined on this basis can be readily subverted by overt and covert disagreements and can be treated as distant geopolitical events rather than bearing on individuals' everyday lives. A robust case for universal human rights is urgently needed and must meet several disparate requirements: (1) a framework that resolves tautological definitions reached solely by mutual, revocable agreement; (2) a rationale that transcends differences in beliefs, creed, and culture; and (3) a personalization that empowers both individuals and governments to further human rights protections. We propose that human rights in existing agreements comprise five elemental types: (1) agency, autonomy, and self-determination; (2) freedom from want; (3) freedom from fear; (4) uniqueness; and (5) unconditionality, including protections for vulnerable populations. We further propose these rights and protections are rooted in fundamental properties of the human brain. We provide a robust, empirical foundation for universal rights based on emerging work in human brain science that we term dignity neuroscience. Dignity neuroscience provides an empirical foundation to support and foster human dignity, universal rights, and their active furtherance by individuals, nations, and international law.


Funder: Clare Hall International Visiting Fellowship, University of Cambridge, England, U.K.

Funder: British Academy International Visiting Fellowship

Funder: Zimmerman Fund for Scientific Innovation Awards in Brain Science, Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science


international law, neuroscience, public policy, sustainable development goals, universal human rights, Brain, Freedom, Human Rights, Humans, Neurosciences, Personal Autonomy, Respect

Journal Title

Ann N Y Acad Sci

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title