Human Rights as a Cognitive Gadget


  • Kseniya Hell University of Vienna


This research aims to investigate the concept of human rights as a cognitive gadget within the field of cognitive science. Drawing from the work of cognitive scientist Cecilia Heyes, who defines cognitive gadgets as learned mental mechanisms that enable humans to think and reason in specific ways, this study explores how human rights can be understood as a cognitive gadget.[1] Unlike innate or genetically programmed traits, human rights are acquired through social interaction and cultural transmission, evolving through cultural rather than genetic evolution.

By viewing human rights as a cognitive and social phenomenon, rather than purely a juridical concept, this research seeks to understand how human rights function as a mental mechanism that enables individuals to contemplate moral and legal entitlements for themselves and others. It acknowledges that human rights are not universal or fixed but are contingent and variable across different historical and political contexts.

Taking into account the significant evolution of human rights since the human rights revolution of approximately 1945, the study proposes an interdisciplinary approach that combines conceptual analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of existing literature and case studies. By tracing the evolution of human rights as a cognitive gadget, the research aims to explore the intricate interplay between the development of human rights as a mental mechanism and the political, cultural, and spiritual challenges that have emerged during the human rights revolution.[2]

By investigating the historical and social contexts that have influenced the evolution of human rights as a cognitive gadget, this research aims to shed light on how human rights as a mental mechanism are shaped and how they respond to the complex challenges of the human rights revolution. This study intends to contribute to the understanding of the cognitive foundations of human rights and their dynamic nature within different cultural and historical settings.


[1] Cecilia Heyes. Cognitive Gadgets: The Cultural Evolution of Thinking. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2018.

[2] Michael Ignatieff. Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. Princeton University Press, 2011.