Whence Rights?

February 1, 2011

Edmund Standing quotes Richard Rorty:-

“Those who wish to supply rational philosophical foundations for a human rights culture say that what human beings have in common outweighs such adventitious factors as race or religion. But they have trouble spelling out what this commonality consists of. It is not enough to say that we all share a common susceptibility to pain, for there is nothing distinctively human about pain. If pain were all that mattered it would be as important to protect the rabbits from the foxes as to protect the Jews from the Nazis. If one accepts a naturalistic, Darwinian account of human origins, it is not helpful to say that we all have reason in common, for on this account to be rational is simply to be able to use language. But there are many languages and most of them are exclusionist. The language of human rights is no more or less characteristic of our species than languages which insist on racial or religious purity.”

Standing goes on to say:-

“The most basic and, for me, satisfying defence of a human rights culture is Rorty’s simple statement that a society based on human rights ‘is much more likely to produce greater human happiness’ than one that is not.[7] An argument can easily be made that appeals to the individual and to self-interest, which at the same time can benefit the wider community: I support human rights not because my heart aches with compassion for every other human being on this planet, but because living in a society based on human rights gives me both freedom and security. The vast majority of people are attracted to freedom and security, therefore this is the best starting point when promoting and defending human rights. It’s not a cast iron argument, but human rights themselves are fragile, and it is more likely to be seen as a compelling argument than being told that we must order a society in a certain way because we are required to do so by ‘fundamental moral imperatives’ (we should also remember that the Nazis considered exterminating Jews to be derived from such fundamental imperatives). The assertion that individualism forms the bedrock of human rights also provides a bulwark against racism and other forms of irrationalism that are based on collectivism, blood mysticism, in-group thinking, tribalism, and so on.”


One Response to “Whence Rights?”

  1. Houston said

    Commonality can be found individually, one on one, by those that wish to find it.

    Perhaps it is because individuals lack self worth and an appreciation of the self worth of other.

    A very thought provoking quote. Thank you for sharing.

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