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The Sacred And The Humane


GeorgeW
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There is an interesting essay in the NYTimes "Stone" series titled The Sacred and the Humane': http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/the-sacred-and-the-humane/

 

The author examines the basis for the concept of human rights. Sacred or secular? She says, '"The question boils down to who or what is the source of moral authority, God or the human being, religion or ethics?"

 

For purposes of definition, she defines human rights as, "the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human."

 

What sayeth PCs?

 

George

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There is an interesting essay in the NYTimes "Stone" series titled The Sacred and the Humane': http://opinionator.b...and-the-humane/

 

The author examines the basis for the concept of human rights. Sacred or secular? She says, '"The question boils down to who or what is the source of moral authority, God or the human being, religion or ethics?"

 

For purposes of definition, she defines human rights as, "the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human."

 

What sayeth PCs?

 

George

 

The way I look at it god or the life force which is in us all is the source. We don't exist seperate from the life force so the moral authority of human rights comes from life force through humans.

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One deep philosophical issue that invigorates debates in human rights is the question of their foundation and justification, the question “where do human rights come from, and what grounds them?” There are two essentially different approaches to answering that question — the religious way and the secular, or philosophical, way. Writing in The New York Times Magazine in 1993 (“Life Is Sacred: That’s the Easy Part”) Ronald Dworkin put this very succinctly: “We almost all accept … that human life in all its forms is sacred—that it has intrinsic and objective value quite apart from any value it might have to the person whose life it is.

Why do we have to know their foundation and justification? What says we have to know the source? Who is controlling the conversation?

 

Religion is a system of myth and ritual; it is a communal system of propositional attitudes — beliefs, hopes, fears, desires — that are related to superhuman agents.

 

Ah, here's the issue. It took a long way to get here. What if we don't believe in a supernatural agent who, before creating, determined the the rules by which we live? Or what if we see through process thought that God and we have arrived at this view - the sacredness of life - through 3.5 or 13.7 billion years of evolution? Well, then, she is not referring to us I guess.

 

I am grouchy this morning. This is an op-ed about a political debate and claiming that the other side is stupid.

 

I shouldn't speak for others so I just ask those who may know: Do all non-religious people agree that abortion can occur during any time in the pregnancy?

 

Dutch

 

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Why do we have to know their foundation and justification? What says we have to know the source? Who is controlling the

conversation? [. . .] I am grouchy this morning. Dutch

 

[/font]

Dutch,

 

While trying to honor your confessed grouchiness (your human right?), I have a couple of questions to be addressed after you have your coffee:

 

1. Do you think there are universal human rights?

2. If so, should there not be some authority or philosophical basis for them?

 

It seems to me that without any foundation, each of us is free to assert these rights whimsically with no reasonable justification.

 

George

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For purposes of definition, she defines human rights as, "the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human."

I think she assumes these are fixed and universal. They have not been.

 

Acute and long-term consequences of adolescents who choose abortions.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3785993

 

In a few minutes of googling I found one worthy study which says that for 14 - 19 year-old girls pregnancy and abortion are complicated. And will have some negative effects no matter which choices are made. I think that - maybe - there are worthy studies like this for older women. I'm guessing that secular opinions would not all agree on the limits of abortion - if these are human rights and derived from reverence for life.

 

The author, Anat Biletzki, is Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy at Quinnipiac University. I assume that her opinion is complicated. I remember an account, perhaps apocryphal, that Schweitzer didn't want to kill some pest, until its presence threatened the health of his patients.

 

Dutch

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George,

 

I see that we leap frogging each other in our posts.

1. Do you think there are universal human rights?

No, not if you mean since the beginning of time and in all cultures. I believe that in the 21st century the world is working towards a common, if not universal, set of human rights.

 

Dutch

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One deep philosophical issue that invigorates debates in human rights is the question of their foundation and justification, the question "where do human rights come from, and what grounds them?" There are two essentially different approaches to answering that question — the religious way and the secular, or philosophical, way. Writing in The New York Times Magazine in 1993 ("Life Is Sacred: That's the Easy Part") Ronald Dworkin put this very succinctly: "We almost all accept … that human life in all its forms is sacred—that it has intrinsic and objective value quite apart from any value it might have to the person whose life it is.

 

Why do we have to know their foundation and justification? What says we have to know the source? Who is controlling the conversation?

 

Those are good questions and what difference does it make? Are so called human rights actual natural rights or are they rights agreed upon by society and codified into law? Are they limited to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness?

 

I would argue that we have no rights that we don't take and we have no rights simply because we are human. I think the more fundamental question is what are rights and what is human.

 

Religion is a system of myth and ritual; it is a communal system of propositional attitudes — beliefs, hopes, fears, desires — that are related to superhuman agents.

 

Ah, here's the issue. It took a long way to get here. What if we don't believe in a supernatural agent who, before creating, determined the the rules by which we live? Or what if we see through process thought that God and we have arrived at this view - the sacredness of life - through 3.5 or 13.7 billion years of evolution? Well, then, she is not referring to us I guess.

 

I am grouchy this morning. This is an op-ed about a political debate and claiming that the other side is stupid.

 

I shouldn't speak for others so I just ask those who may know: Do all non-religious people agree that abortion can occur during any time in the pregnancy?

 

Dutch

 

The abortion question is one I've given a lot of thought lately so I will give you my answer but can't speak for all non-religious people. I don't think that all religious or all non-religious will ever agree on anything.

 

I think that from a legal and moral standpoint it is the woman's choice to decide at anytime during pregnancy that she will abort the fetus. Here is my argument:

 

I appreciate your question because each time I'm asked to answer it I am forced to rethink my position.

 

Murder is defined as: The act of unlawfully killing another human being.

 

Abortion is not unlawful and an embryo, zygote or fetus is not a human being; therefore abortion is not murder.

 

Life doesn't begin, life is energy and according to the law of conservation of energy, it can neither be created nor destroyed. Life always existed as a force.

 

"When does life first manifest in full human form?" is the question we need to ask and answer. Before we can answer that we need to define what human life is.

 

An organism is a form of life that is capable of growing, metabolizing nutrients, and usually reproducing. All organisms share a common basic element called DNA, the necessary ingredient for organic life.

 

Human beings are unique manifestations of the life and human life's uniqueness comes from the ability to reason and be self conscious; to be a cognitive sensual entity. Until an individual organism has matured or developed that combination of uniquely human characteristics it cannot be identified as human; viable and capable of reproducing or becoming a functioning part of the greater human organism we call humanity. It would be a potential human in development. A human's development begins with the physiological formation in the womb, all this in preparation to become a viable,sentient, cognative human being.

 

DNA in each human being is unique and each cell among the trillions of cells within our bodies carries a duplicate copy of our unique DNA program. Among all human beings the difference in our DNA varies between 99.999 and 99.998 percent identical, a difference of only .001 percent.

 

Each individual human life begins with birth and ends with death. Birth is defined as that time when we as individuals are separated from the umbilical link that ties us to our mother, the conduit for all of our nourishment taken from our mother's oxygenated blood supply.

 

To argue that a human life begins at the time the male seed unites with the egg is like arguing that Microsoft Windows 7 was a program when the idea was conceived and the first line of code was written. Until birth when the first independent breath is drawn there is no human being, only a potential human being dependent upon its mother womb for shelter and the umbilical cord that feeds it.

 

As that first independent breath is drawn we have a viable human being because an infant has just gained the capacity to reason. Before it could breathe on its own the biological body could not support that cognitive capacity. Cognition is the scientific term for mental processes. It refers to information-processing abilities of humans, including perception, learning, remembering, judging, and problem-solving.

Even after a baby is born it doesn't become a self conscious viable human being for several more years and even when it is capable of surviving and taking its own nourishment it is still dependent upon other human beings to become a mature whole part of the human organism.

 

The human organism, humanity, is a macro organism composed of all individual human beings each having a unique but almost identical DNA program and each having a birth and death defining their life span. At death the life force that keeps the cellular structure organized leaves the mortal organic body allowing it to decompose and return to its elemental make up as it is re-absorbed by the environment. The life force energy that kept the organism functional cannot be destroyed and remains as energy in the universe available to transfer to other organisms. This is the law of conservation of energy, the first law of thermodynamics.

 

When a fetus is aborted it is not yet born; ergo not yet human. A unique expression of potential human life is postponed by abortion but life is not destroyed. Humanity as an organism is not harmed and will continue evolving with or without this particular life.

 

My understanding of God is based on reason and my reason tells me that there is a universal, natural, immutable force determining all that exists, all that happens and all that will happen. This is the life force; a triune force of consciousness, truth and love. The things we all share with each other as members of the greater human organism, humanity, are our 99.999% identical DNA, the space we exist in and life force.

 

Life force permeates everything and guides evolution toward ultimate perfection. The Life force is called God by most people but it doesn't love any of us, it is love; it doesn't give consciousness, it is consciousness; it doesn't know truth, it is truth. The life force is in us all and all we need to do to be in harmony with it is accept it, and learn to understand it.

 

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It seems to me that without the idea of universal human rights, we have no basis for interfering in the most egregious actions of other societies such as genocide, slavery and the like. To attempt to stop it would be imposing our values on others. This would be, I think, radical relativism.

 

George

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It seems to me that without the idea of universal human rights, we have no basis for interfering in the most egregious actions of other societies such as genocide, slavery and the like. To attempt to stop it would be imposing our values on others. This would be, I think, radical relativism.

 

George

 

 

I think this is correct George, we do have an idea of universal human rights and we use that as our basis for pre-emptive war, assisting insurgents to overthrow tyrannical dictators and to stop genocide and slavery where it benefits us. I think we use these human rights ideas as justification for hegemony. The class war going on today in the United States is the result of a Supreme Court making a mockery of the 1st and 14th amendments of the constitution to grant human rights to corporations. By that I mean corporations are no longer treated as artificial persons created by law but as natural persons. That seems to be radical relativism to me.

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I think this is correct George, we do have an idea of universal human rights and we use that as our basis for pre-emptive war, assisting insurgents to overthrow tyrannical dictators and to stop genocide and slavery where it benefits us. I think we use these human rights ideas as justification for hegemony.

Harry,

 

I don't think that the fact that the concept of universal human rights can be abused invalidates the idea. Likewise, I don't think the absence of a the idea of universal human rights would deter hegemony or aggressive war.

 

George

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It seems to me that without the idea of universal human rights, we have no basis for interfering in the most egregious actions of other societies such as genocide, slavery and the like. To attempt to stop it would be imposing our values on others. This would be, I think, radical relativism.

I have heard it said the relativism is a characteristic of a postmodern world and that a recognition that some relatives are better than others is a characteristic of this post-postmodern age. When you say that human rights are universal I take that to imply that they have always been the same, eternal so to speak. That's why I do not believe they are universal. Now, if we say that in the 21st century many, many people agree on some basic human rights then we have a place to stand when we say that genocide is wrong.

 

That is how a process view of values works, I think. The highest concept of what are human rights is held collectively and evolves. Human rights or any other value or fact does not exist outside human experience. It only exists once it has been realized.

 

Dutch

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Anyone else notice this? The author of the article is:

 

"Anat Biletzki is Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy at Quinnipiac University and professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv University."

 

Schweitzer's view is in the Link Suggestion Forum.

 

Myron

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I have heard it said the relativism is a characteristic of a postmodern world and that a recognition that some relatives are better than others is a characteristic of this post-postmodern age. When you say that human rights are universal I take that to imply that they have always been the same, eternal so to speak. That's why I do not believe they are universal. Now, if we say that in the 21st century many, many people agree on some basic human rights then we have a place to stand when we say that genocide is wrong.

 

That is how a process view of values works, I think. The highest concept of what are human rights is held collectively and evolves. Human rights or any other value or fact does not exist outside human experience. It only exists once it has been realized.

 

Dutch

 

I didn't read it that way Dutch, I read it to mean an idea of universality, applicable to all humans, that has been agreed upon collectively as governments evolve worldwide. Maybe I should go back to the article and re-read it. I don't think we have rights just because we are human, I think we have rights because society gives them to us or because we take them.

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It seems that I may be the odd man out here. I think there are universal human rights and not based on consensus. Even were there were there consensus on the value of slavery or the need to exterminate troublesome minorities or persecute gays, I think this violates basic human rights wherever it occurs and whenever it occurs.

 

I don't think the source of these rights is 'divine command' but more Kantian (as I understand his categorical imperative).

 

As to moral relativity, someone has proposed that even relativity is relative. IMO, at some basic level, there are non-negotiable moral absolutes.

 

George

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I somewhat agree with this statement:

 

For some, the physics that runs the natural world and the ethics that provide for our moral sense are seen to be more ordinary than religious experience.

 

However, I would temper it with a sentiment expressed in Thomas Hardy's novel, Tess of the D'Urbevilles.

 

If you haven't read the novel, the following scene is preceded by a collision between two horse carts ending in Tess' horse having to be shot to death as her and her brother were traveling along a dark, country road. Her younger brother peers up at the clear, starry sky above and asks:

 

"Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"

"Yes."

"All like ours?"

"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."

"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"

"A blighted one."

Thomas Hardy (Tess of the D'Urbervilles)

 

Depending on your perspective and life experience, you either view the world as a splendid star or a blighted one. Morality and the "blessing" of the gods doesn't appear to favor one over the other. It all appears quite random.

 

NORM

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GeorgeW, on 18 July 2011 - 09:19 PM, said:

 

It seems that I may be the odd man out here. I think there are universal human rights and not based on consensus. Even were there were there consensus on the value of slavery or the need to exterminate troublesome minorities or persecute gays, I think this violates basic human rights wherever it occurs and whenever it occurs.

 

I don't think the source of these rights is 'divine command' but more Kantian (as I understand his categorical imperative).

 

As to moral relativity, someone has proposed that even relativity is relative. IMO, at some basic level, there are non-negotiable moral absolutes.

 

George

 

George,

 

If the source of these rights you speak of are indeed Kantian (philisophical theory) then how does that make it more valid than consensus? It seems to me, it is the powers that be at the time that set the standard regardless if one deems it moral or not, So who can say what is a basic humnan right and what is not except to their own relative judgement based on their own theory of reality? While i can find consensus with you in preferences and we can call them universal with some agreement, how can i make a claim to any universal right by a theory or my reasoning alone that would be speaking without full knowledge of all things?

 

Joseph

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I see so-called religious people killing, torturing, and creating situations where millions of people starve while food is stored or wasted. Religious people preying on others to satisfy an emotional or physical need so I feel it boils down to reverence for the Divinity within, the Soul, the life beyond the outer form, which is more into the essence of being. I feel if we find the essence within ourselves we will make contact with the essence or interior of people, plants, animals and things. This experience prohibits the exploitation of people, cities, nations, the planet or universe or the experience ceases to be. I don’t think it is possible for a person to be part of such activities and approach the Divinity within. The experience alters the tendency towards harming others so cruel acts diminish. I feel as we acquire a greater sense of who we really are, we think more deeply about the consequences before we set energy to action. This seems to conclude that there will be different concepts, ideas and levels of a moral order according to one's relationship with the essence in all.

Edited by soma
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Harry

I didn't read it that way Dutch, I read it to mean an idea of universality, applicable to all humans, that has been agreed upon collectively as governments evolve worldwide. Maybe I should go back to the article and re-read it. I don't think we have rights just because we are human, I think we have rights because society gives them to us or because we take them.

Harry, I wasn't interpreting the essay at this point. But I think we agree. I wrote

 

The highest concept of what are human rights is held collectively and evolves. Human rights or any other value or fact does not exist outside human experience.

GeorgeW

It seems that I may be the odd man out here. I think there are universal human rights and not based on consensus. Even were there were there consensus on the value of slavery or the need to exterminate troublesome minorities or persecute gays, I think this violates basic human rights wherever it occurs and whenever it occurs.

GeorgeW OP

For purposes of definition, she defines human rights as, "the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human."

 

I guess the problem for me is: If there are universal human rights where do they exist. Evolution has no respect for the individual, human or otherwise. I don't believe that "basic human rights" are due an individual because of some innate value. There is probably a functional, or rhetorical reason for saying it this way, particularly in the West, but I see no evidence that basic rights lie in one's individual existence and no basic rights lie the anthro-centric view that we are due basic human rights because we are human.

 

The universals are not in the garden to which we attempt to return and they are not in an Eternal Object or form to which we are moving from the shadows.

 

Intersubjectivity, relationship. That is where the 'Universal' of "basic human rights" is located, I think. Not in one's individuality and not in one's humanity, but only in the relationship. To the extent that those in the relationship apprehend the 'universal' it exists. But I would contend it is otherwise homeless - and therefore inaccessible.

 

The breadth and depth of this 'universal' is not restricted to today's headline or Sunday's preaching or our Bible. Its horizons are not limited to this century or a categorical imperative - although categorical imperatives are part of the conversation and memory - This "universal' is anchored in humanity's evolution and shared experience. The value and accountability of each person ( I may not have stated this correctly) was one of the key ideas of the Axial age. So this 'universal' is anchored in our shared experiences and memory. We don't have to start over each morning. And that's why, I think we experience it as 'universal'. I just don't see where it exists unless it is in the evolving relationships in the universe.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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George,

 

If the source of these rights you speak of are indeed Kantian (philisophical theory) then how does that make it more valid than consensus? Joseph

Joseph,

 

I think there are fundamental human rights that cannot be abridged by consensus. We could, as an example, through consensus, decide to enslave black people in America, but that would not make it morally right.

 

Kant's categorical imperative, as I understand it, says a couple of things. First, there are basic unalterable (categorical) human rights. Second, these can be determined by applying a test: "A person acts morally if his or her conduct would, without condition, be the right conduct for any person in similar circumstances." Using the slave example, we cannot decide that it is proper to enslave anyone unless we are willing to apply this universally to everyone.

 

This is, I think, similar to Jesus' Golden Rule, except maybe stronger. Even if a person wanted to be enslaved, Kant wouldn't grant anyone the right to enslave them.

 

That's my understanding.

 

George

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I guess the problem for me is: If there are universal human rights where do they exist. Evolution has no respect for the individual, human or otherwise.Dutch

Dutch,

 

I haven't worked it out completely, but I think there is an evolutionary basis for morality and the related human rights.

 

It is has been argued, I think persuasively, that we posses basic moral intuitions that are the result of evolutionary development. Wolfs are social animals with genetically determined norms of behavior. Similarly, humans are social animals, so we would have also developed basic norms of behavior, i.e. moral values. This would have developed through natural selection. Those with anti-social behavior were kicked out of the band and did not reproduce as much. Those whom everyone liked and trusted got lots of babes and babies.

 

These basic moral intuitions then get elaborated and more specifically defined by culture.

 

George

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I am in agreement with George. As I have noted elesewhere, until recently we have underestimated the depth and scope of human moral emotion and moral intuition. The irony here is that researchers such as Jonathan Haidt and Paul Valent have shown how even "the sacred" is a human moral intuition.

 

Myron

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It is has been argued, I think persuasively, that we posses basic moral intuitions that are the result of evolutionary development. Wolfs are social animals with genetically determined norms of behavior. Similarly, humans are social animals, so we would have also developed basic norms of behavior, i.e. moral values. This would have developed through natural selection. Those with anti-social behavior were kicked out of the band and did not reproduce as much. Those whom everyone liked and trusted got lots of babes and babies.

 

These basic moral intuitions then get elaborated and more specifically defined by culture.

 

I think the only place we disagree is whether these basic moral values existed as universals before development.

whether they were in our genes from the very first, in the beginning of the universe. My quibble is that they are not universals or eternal or pure or any other absolute attribute and that they do not exist because of our individuality or because of our humanity. They exist because we are related and without that social connection they don't exist.

 

For rhetorical purposes, perhaps, we have to say they are universal, i.e., exist out side human control and not relative. But the UN document is called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights NOT The Declaration of Universal Human Rights. OK, it is probably an accident of language and in this particular case English reads The Universal (because most of us agree that this is our best idea about how we should treat each other) Declaration of Human Rights. But on the positive side it doesn't say we are OK if you don't agree and you want to behave badly; we won't stop you. An interesting note. A Muslim country, I don't remember which, said we fully agree - except where SHARIA law conflicts. Human rights exist in our relationships and Sharia law is not our best understanding. We can say that - because, as social beings - in relationship - we have evolved these ideas about how to treat each other.

 

There is a blog with a good ongoing discussion about how democracy is in our genes. I can't find the bookmark and I have to go to work. Democracy just wasn't there in the beginning at the time of the big bang nor in the first biological life or as an absolute.

 

Dutch

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I think the only place we disagree is whether these basic moral values existed as universals before development.

whether they were in our genes from the very first, in the beginning of the universe. My quibble is that they are not universals or eternal or pure or any other absolute attribute and that they do not exist because of our individuality or because of our humanity. They exist because we are related and without that social connection they don't exist.

 

Dutch

Dutch,

 

We do not disagree on this. I think my 'whenever and wherever' statement was too strong and misleading. I don't think that genetically-based moral intuitions existed among the early hominids as they are today.

 

George

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Jeffrey Alexander makes a distinction between universal ideals and universalizing ideals. As an empirical statement, very few human rights are universal in the sense that they are present and defended everywhere. However, human societies tend to come up with principles that ought to be universal. This sets up all types of messiness, as different groups attempt to balance potentially incompatible ideals, and society tries to relate normative concerns about morality to other areas of life.

 

I have no problem claiming that rationality is sacred, and even mythic. In my worldview, doing that takes nothing away from rationality or intellectual discourse. I don't think the author of the linked article would agree with me. Also, I'm amused that her definition of religion makes Spong (and therefore a decent number of people here) non-religious.

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Joseph,

 

(snip)

Kant's categorical imperative, as I understand it, says a couple of things. First, there are basic unalterable (categorical) human rights. Second, these can be determined by applying a test: "A person acts morally if his or her conduct would, without condition, be the right conduct for any person in similar circumstances." Using the slave example, we cannot decide that it is proper to enslave anyone unless we are willing to apply this universally to everyone.

 

This is, I think, similar to Jesus' Golden Rule, except maybe stronger. Even if a person wanted to be enslaved, Kant wouldn't grant anyone the right to enslave them.

(snip)

George,

 

Are there really basic unalterable human rights? While a human test can be used to call something moral or not, isn't that test in reality just another agreed consensus? While the golden rule and Kant's test is to me wise to live by and subject to cause and effect and sowing and reaping laws, it seems to me morality is man defined, relative and coined by society and the powers that be whether political or religious. If there are absolutes on the issue, it would seem to me it would have to come from divinity within as Soma has pointed out and not a theoretical test defined by man.

 

Even you yourself, have pointed out a potential flaw in the golden rule. Perhaps absolute right conduct is not subject to a law or rule?

 

Just my 2 cents,

Joseph

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