Respect for human rights requires engagement of a special capacity to identify and respond to rights, but current research on the psychological causes and conditions of human rights violations has proceeded without a clear enough understanding of the distinctive ways this psychological capacity functions. This article integrates contemporary insights from social and cognitive psychology with findings from a broader range of fields, including philosophy and evolutionary theory, to develop a contemporary account of this special capacity. The account suggests that processes of so-called “dehumanization” are not as fundamental to the generation of human rights violations as current research has suggested. Humans have an innate capacity to identify and respond to rights, but it needs support to produce stable perceptions of rights beyond one's in-group. Distinctive factors engage this capacity and can help orient it to support a more stable and universally shared form of respect for human rights in the modern world.