William Phillips

  • William Phillips

    PhD candidate

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William Phillips is PhD Candidate at Melbourne Law School. He researches in the philosophy of human rights, and is particularly interested in the foundations of human rights and their function as rights properly so called. His research examines grounding theories of human rights and aims to mount a defence of human rights against claims that they serve no function in our modern conflict-ridden world.

In 2012 William worked as an intern in the Appeals Section of the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and was subsequently the Associate to the Honourable Justice Peek QC of the Supreme Court of South Australia. He has served as a member of both the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of South Australia and the inaugural Business and Human Rights Working Group of the Law Council of Australia. William was a Teaching Associate at Adelaide Law School between 2014 and 2016, where he taught ‘Public Law’, ‘Administrative Law’, and ‘Contracts’.

In addition to his research activities, William tutors in the breadth subject ‘Public Trials’ and is a regional correspondent for the Oxford Human Rights Hub Blog.

William graduated from Flinders University in 2013 with a double degree in Law and International Studies. He received First Class Honours and a University Medal for his studies in Law. He holds a Bachelor of Civil Law (Distinction) from the University of Oxford, and was a recipient of the Oxford Law Faculty/Jesus College BCL Scholarship.

Thesis Title

The Why and Wherefore of Human Rights: Examining the grounding relations of human rights

Thesis Summary

Human rights are frequently invoked to describe the types of wrongs that we find most objectionable. But do human rights do any more than this? Are they any more than rhetorical flourishes? In the face of the slaughter of civilians in Syria, the torture of suspected terrorists after 9/11, and other daily breaches of human rights, many theorists wonder whether human rights really exist at all. My thesis examines existing philosophical accounts of human rights and asks whether they can adequately defend a conception of human rights as rights properly so called. It looks at the existence conditions for human rights.


  • Human rights
  • Moral and political philosophy
  • Jurisprudence