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What is the Basis of Human Rights


PaulS
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Paul,

The Peasants Revolt

 

Wikipedia is not comprehensive so I wait to be informed.

I think religion is sometimes at the service of a movement. In this case and in others there was an appeal to authority for human rights and social equality. That was one of the keys to the Protestant Reformation. We are all equal before God. The Delaration of Independence makes this same appeal to authority, the Creator. And there were many sermons in the Americas in support of the Revolution.

 

Dutch

 

Dutch,

 

I think religion is often at the service of the movement and certainly in the case you outline there was an appeal to authority. My point was mainly trying to say that I don't think the human rights movement can be soley attributed to religion or appeals to authority. I mean to say that there are people who do support/practice/uphold human rights without any consideration for a higher authority.

 

Considering your OP, I think your friend may be part right - certainly there are those who believe human rights are derived from a higher authority and fight for those with that belief held. However, throughout history there have been cultures and communities that practice human rights simply on their own merits without any appeal to an authority.

 

Wikipedia defines human rights as follows, which I think accurately portrays that appeals to a higher authority are not required and/or considered for human rights to be driven.

 

Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being."[1] Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law.[2] The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world. In The idea of human rights[3] it says: "if the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights." Despite this, the strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a "right" is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.[4]

Many of the basic ideas that animated the movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atrocities of The Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The ancient world did not possess the concept of universal human rights.[5] Ancient societies had "elaborate systems of duties... conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights".[6] The modern concept of human rights developed during the early Modern period, alongside the European secularization of Judeo-Christian ethics.[7] The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval Natural law tradition that became prominent during the Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

From this foundation, the modern human rights arguments emerged over the latter half of the twentieth century. Gelling as social activism and political rhetoric in many nations put it high on the world agenda.[8] “ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. ”

 

One thing to add, from personal experience I don't support the human right for instance of all people being treated equal for any other reason than that is how I would want to be treated. I require no appeal to authority to desire that human right throughout the world.

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Paul,

All men are created equal before God was a concept significant in the Reformation If one hears this phrase for 2-3 centuries the understanding will come from deep in one's bones so to speak. It evolves until there is no alternative. The issue is what is the source for this concept.

 

One could, after hearing that phrase for 2-3 centuries, have that understanding deep within one's bones, but I don't think one can concusively say that was the reason all peopIe felt that way about human rights. I'm sure many did, but I for one wouldn't be so certain to say all did. Presumably they got this concept from the bible, but where did the bible get it from? Perhaps the bible writers turned it into about deference to authority?

 

I agree the issue is the source, which undoubtedly can never be precisely determined. Do you think there is one, singular source? I suspect as humans evolved, developed tribal groups, different cultures, lived in different environments, the concept of human rights developed with the culture. In some instances these rights may have been aligned with deference to authority (in fact, often were), in others they were developed without.

 

The reference below contains some information about the Cyrus Cylinder, dated 539BC. Whilst the writer supports freedom of religion, there is no reference itself to authority. IMO, it would seem the author respected others views and was prepared to allow them to practice their religions, but it's strange that he made no mention or deferral to authority himself.

 

From http://sites.google....olution/history :

 

The Cyrus Cylinder (539 B.C.)

In 539 B.C. the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia (today, know as Iran), conquered the city of Babylon. But it was his next actions that marked a major advance for Man. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script.

 

Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has now been recognized as the world's first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions parallel the first four articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Spread of Human Rights:

 

From Babylon, the idea of human rights spread quickly to India, Greece and eventually Rome. There the concept of "natural law" arose, in observation of the fact that people tended to follow certain unwritten laws in the course of life, and Roman law was based on rational ideas derived from the nature of things.

Edited by Paul Smedley
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I find it interesting the goal of "happiness for the most people" has been associated with the idea of human rights, because if you think about it, human rights, as applicable to all individuals equally, is actually something of a luxury of a society that is relatively affluent in resources.

 

When society has existed and functioned under circumstances of extremely limited resources, the goal could be more accurately stated as "survival for the most people." There might even be considered something of an interim stage one might refer to as "well-being for the most people." Though I consider it possible we might have just jumped right over that one, and might benefit by going back towatd it a bit.

 

Individualism as at odds with, in tension with, collectivism has a lot to do with available resources, and distribution of those resources. And historically, societies and cultures have adpated and changed in perceptions of individual human rights to collectism, the best for the All. It is no longer an accepted practice among deep arctic peoples to put first-born babies, if a girl, out into the snow to die immediately after birth, out of the survival need for men to hunt and provide food for the family, or for elderly no longer able to materially contribute to the family/community survival to stoicly go sit on an ice flow and sacrifice themselves to a polar bear that might be that family's meat in the future.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being."[1] Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national and international law.[2]

 

This is essentially a Kantian idea. It, of course, does not depend on God, but it arose (as Dutch and Mike have argued) out of a milieu and cultural history which included religious thought.

 

And, it begs the question, Why do we inherently have these inalienable rights? What is the source?

 

George

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This is essentially a Kantian idea. It, of course, does not depend on God, but it arose (as Dutch and Mike have argued) out of a milieu and cultural history which included religious thought.

 

And, it begs the question, Why do we inherently have these inalienable rights? What is the source?

 

George

 

Can't the 'source' simply be humans developing the mindset to apply such principles as a result of recognising the overall benefit to society? Yes, Dutch & Mike may have argued that it arose out of a millieu and cultural history which included religous thought, but I see no evidence that it arose because of such religous thought. I thought the Cyrus Cylinder, half a millenia before Jesus, was a good example of human thought so early on in the process before such religous thought was common.

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Can't the 'source' simply be humans developing the mindset to apply such principles as a result of recognising the overall benefit to society?

 

Yes, it could. In a way, universal human rights are the application of the Golden Rule (which, of course, comes out of a religious tradition). It also comes from Kant's Moral Imperative which is more secular.

 

Since religion is a cultural universal, it is hard to tease out secular motivations from religious as our overall worldview gets reflected in our religion. So, maybe it is a chicken and egg issue. But, it makes for an interesting and lively discussion.

 

George

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To pick up an old post in this thread.

commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being

Paul, I don't think this can be shown scientifically. Nature places no value on an individual and our species has no worth higher than any other so, as I have argued in another thread, scientifically there is nothing inherently valuable about a human being. That value has to come from somewhere else.

 

Co-evolution of biology and religion/culture or working from "I value myself so I will value others". Actually I prefer Mike's post.

 

Dutch

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I think I could only agree with this if both statements are held simultaneously. It's true because it works and it works because its true. If 'truth' is given any honors in religious philosophy and practice, there must be a transcendence of mere utilitarian understanding.

 

 

I think it's a qualitatively different argument. There's probably something I didn't make clear in my posts. I don't look to religion as something external to human endeavors, as a process happening beyond the actuality of life itself. Religion originates in us. It is a way -- or more accurately -- a category of ways in which we have found to relate to our existence. This is through reasoning about the nature of reality, our place in it, and how we ought to live. Metaphysics. I think more than this, we, as it were, originate in religion, in the sense that religious questions swell up from our very existence. The truth of our existence seeks to articulate itself in us, through us.

 

On this understanding of religion, I would maintain that we do not have values, rights, morality, apart from this. The "secular" is a secularization of values that we creativity put into practice based on an understanding of the universe that is essentially metaphysical and convictions that are indistinguishable from religious convictions. I personally believe in the inherent worth and dignity of each person. This is not a truth that science has demonstrated. It's not something I can prove. I appeal to intuition that lies beyond physical fact, and to meaning, which is intimately woven throughout all my doings -- throughout actuality itself, holding the world together. By such appeals, am I not being religious? Perhaps religion is a verb. It is nonetheless how I get my values. Without these (or similar) appeals, I don't see how nihility would not follow. I certainly have no seen any derivation of "human rights" apart from such a process, and here none has yet been suggested aside from consequentialism.

 

Peace,

Mike

How can you only have a basis for morality from a system of metaphysics you admit you don't even have proof is real? If there's no proof God exists, then anyone can make up a moral commandment no matter what it is and say God told them this was right even if common sense would tell us it was wrong. In fact, there has been signifificant scientific research that what people think God believes is moral and immoral always matches up with what they believe is immoral and moral and so people are merely imposing their own moral systems onto this label they call God. This is true for both conservative believers and progressives. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Perhaps God is a verb and if religion is praxis then ...

Mike,

When I understand what you have written I am often blessed. Thanks. (My lack understanding is often my problem.)

 

Dutch

 

Thanks Dutch. I like how you linked God into the practice. It has consonance with the Soto Zen principle: there is no practice toward enlighenment; to practice is enlightenment. :)

Edited by Mike
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How can you only have a basis for morality from a system of metaphysics you admit you don't even have proof is real?

 

That kind of seems to be the way things are. Indeed, that's a question I've been putting to you, How can you not have a basis for morality from such a method? Do you have an another means of furnishing a basis (i.e. one that's metaphysically neutral?) One can easily just assume that moral categories are real and speak to something real, but to do so would be to ignore the elephant in the room. If one wants to give an account of morality, one can't just assume that "right" and "wrong" exist. This belief would have to be grounded in something to demonstrate that it's not just a category mistake, alien to the way things actually are.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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To pick up an old post in this thread.

 

Paul, I don't think this can be shown scientifically. Nature places no value on an individual and our species has no worth higher than any other so, as I have argued in another thread, scientifically there is nothing inherently valuable about a human being. That value has to come from somewhere else.

 

Co-evolution of biology and religion/culture or working from "I value myself so I will value others". Actually I prefer Mike's post.

 

Dutch

 

Possibly true, Dutch. I don't know how one would prove that. I don't think it rules it out whatsoever, just difficult to prove like most of the opinions raised thus far. However I think 'nature' does place value on an individual. We are nature. We place a higher worth higher than others quite demonstrably by the actions we take, IMO. I don't agree that scientifically there is nothing inherently valuable about a human being - what sort of science are you referring to? The value comes because we say so as human beings. We have developed and evolved over time to reach such value and conclusions. It comes from us, not somewhere else.

 

Personally I don't see a difference between co-evolution of biology and religion culture or working from "I value myself so I will value others". If we didn't value ourselves we'd have no appreciation for valuing others, would we?

Edited by Paul Smedley
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. . . but to say we wouldn't have social justice without religion or that religion is the only way to have morals and human rights is no different than the fundamentalist Christians who say their religion is the one true way to salvation and it's either their way or the high way.

 

I agree. Social justice does not depend on religion. However, as has been written here, the idea of human rights and the inherent dignity of a person may well have its genesis in religion.

 

George

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If one wants to give an account of morality, one can't just assume that "right" and "wrong" exist. This belief would have to be grounded in something to demonstrate that it's not just a category mistake, alien to the way things actually are.

 

Mike,

 

I am convinced that basic 'morality' is grounded in our DNA and got there through the evolution of a social animal. Now, are we conflating morality, social justice and human rights? Can we have morality without a concept of human rights or are these inextricably linked? Have all humans for all time had an intuitive sense of human rights?

 

Basic, intuitive morality has been part of Homo sapiens for millennia. From what I have read, the concept of human rights arose (at least explicitly) during the enlightenment period in Europe. Did it exist intuitively in all human societies before this?

 

I need to think about this a bit and would be very interested in your (and other's) ideas about this.

 

George

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Our DNA definitely has a lot to do with the structure of our cognition. But if we try to ground moral categories on amoral categories (genetics, evolution), I think this makes for a lot of problems. Does evolution create morality, or does reality, ontologically, already have such a nature as for meaning, subjectivity, and morality to express themselves under the needed conditions? If the former is true, then it is our behavior in reference to evolution that explains all the facts about morality there are. In effect, morality is reduced to nothing and is a category mistake. If the latter is true, morality stands beyond the physical facts.

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Even Charles Darwin observed, as he examined evidence and posited his theory of evolution, that there seemed to natural reason for humans to be as we consider moral and compassionate or even ethical. He saw nothing in his examination of evidence or conclusions to explain what humans were anything different from or more than other survival driven species. And yet, he observed, thay are.

I haven't found any compelling or convincing evidence for myself, that would lead me to think or believe human morality and ethics and concience is consistent with the same natural forces and evolution of the rest of living creatures on the Earth. Recognition of human rights and human equality, and compassion and concern for, or caring and protecting, the weak, injured, infirm, or elderly seems not only not something that would naturally arise out of a survival selection process, but be actually counter-productive and count-intuitive to that.

 

Jenell

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Our DNA definitely has a lot to do with the structure of our cognition. But if we try to ground moral categories on amoral categories (genetics, evolution), I think this makes for a lot of problems. Does evolution create morality, or does reality, ontologically, already have such a nature as for meaning, subjectivity, and morality to express themselves under the needed conditions? If the former is true, then it is our behavior in reference to evolution that explains all the facts about morality there are. In effect, morality is reduced to nothing and is a category mistake. If the latter is true, morality stands beyond the physical facts.

 

We are social animals and as such have developed through evolution certain basic, intuitive rules of behavior without the need for a campfire meeting or proclamation from the chief. No one needs to tell us, don't mess around with your sister, we are born with that impulse (incest taboo). These basic impulses then get elaborated by culture. This is where cultures differ. Also, I think, culture determines priorities to help resolve moral dilemmas.

 

The Trolley tests mentioned in another thread have been used in experiments to demonstrate universal moral instincts. People cross-culturally tend to answer these questions in the same way, and often cannot rationalize their impulse.

 

What I wonder is if a sense of inherent human dignity is part of this set of values we are born with. If so, that would be the basis of human rights.

 

George

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It isn't obvious to me how genetics can serve as a basis for morality and values. It can explain why a moral awareness has been beneficial for us, indeed, even how this awareness grows in us; but it doesn't seem to touch just what moral categories are. Inherent worth, dignity, rights -- if they exist -- are not facets of objective behavior. To reduce them to objective behavior, to my mind, is to have reduced them out of existence.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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It occurs to me that to talk about evolution in things involving human ideas, that there might be need to consider more that one kind of "evolution," Biological evolution is one thing, but evolution of human ideas, beliefs, knowledge, ideas, behaviors, practices, and cultural/social system us an entire other thing, even if laid up biological traits, over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years.

There is little to no evidence the structure or capacity of the human brain has changed much since our specie originally arose, and has been observed that were it possible to recreate through retrieval of ancient DNA any person from antiquity, and infant born and raised in ur society today. that there would be no discernative difference between that child or any other concieved and born today aprt from ordinary natural difference between any individuals today. The changes have come about through evolution of knowledge and ideas, rather than biology.

 

Jenell

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It isn't obvious to me how genetics can serve as a basis for morality and values.

 

Mike,

 

Guys with certain genes that predispose them to behavior beneficial the group get more girls and produce more offspring than those who have a genetic predisposition to anti-social behavior. Over time, this becomes the dominate gene pool. Natural selection.

 

George

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There is little to no evidence the structure or capacity of the human brain has changed much since our specie originally arose

perhaps in raw measurements but the difference between humans and elephants is not brain size but connections and the ability to cope with all that processing power. So my guess, with no expertise to rely on, is that there was a co-evolution of biology, language, technology, culture. The demands of language changes the structure - that is the connections - in the brain. The brain is malleable in one's life and over the millenia.

 

Some would say that homo habilis and homo erectus could vocalize but may not meet the criteria for language. Even at the arrival of homo sapeins 200,000 years ago we weren't thinking in the same categories I think. I don't ever want to under-estimate other humans. We do that too often But you have to have Newton before Einstein. And, from a millenia viewpoint, I don't think it is just because you have a new book in the library.

 

Dutch

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It occurs to me that to talk about evolution in things involving human ideas, that there might be need to consider more that one kind of "evolution," Biological evolution is one thing, but evolution of human ideas, beliefs, knowledge, ideas, behaviors, practices, and cultural/social system us an entire other thing, even if laid up biological traits, over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years.

There is little to no evidence the structure or capacity of the human brain has changed much since our specie originally arose, and has been observed that were it possible to recreate through retrieval of ancient DNA any person from antiquity, and infant born and raised in ur society today. that there would be no discernative difference between that child or any other concieved and born today aprt from ordinary natural difference between any individuals today. The changes have come about through evolution of knowledge and ideas, rather than biology.

 

If you are interested, I can suggest a couple of books written by people who are experts in evolution and make a compelling case that morality has a biological basis.

 

It is widely accepted now that we are not born with blank slates between our ears; our brains are modular. It is clear that language has a genetic basis. The case has also been made that basic moral instincts developed over time as well in the biology of our brains. But, these are very basic impulses or instincts not finely defined sets of rights and wrongs. This is were culture enters the moral picture.

 

George

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So my guess, with no expertise to rely on, is that there was a co-evolution of biology, language, technology, culture. The demands of language changes the structure - that is the connections - in the brain. The brain is malleable in one's life and over the millenia.

 

Good guess :) ! It is widely accepted that we are born with a language instinct. The evidence is overwhelming.

 

George

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George,

 

Language instinct -

Habilis and erectus are posited to vocalize and I would think they did not have language instinct. Could it be that rights also had such an evolution? Mike I would not locate the evolution of inherent dignity solely in the genetics and physicality but also metaphysically. (Is spell check turned off?) Could not the metaphysical universe evolve - co-evolve?

 

Dutch

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