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Questioning Natural Rights: Is the Idea of Natural Rights Ineliminably Religious?. ER 11, Spring 2012. Results. Natural rights approaches based on revelation cannot solve problem of parochialism Natural rights approaches based on idea of self-evidence are non-starters

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Questioning Natural Rights: Is the Idea of Natural Rights Ineliminably Religious?


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    1. Questioning Natural Rights: Is the Idea of Natural Rights Ineliminably Religious? ER 11, Spring 2012

    2. Results • Natural rights approaches based on revelation cannot solve problem of parochialism • Natural rights approaches based on idea of self-evidence are non-starters • Natural rights approaches based on the idea of a human function are implausible outside of a theological framework

    3. We have found no non-parochial way of making sense of natural rights. Therefore, we have found no such way of making sense of human rights.

    4. Maybe idea of moral ‘rights’ makes no sense outside of theology Human rights have no non-parochial foundations

    5. Can there be morality/ rights without God at all?

    6. Ethics in Christian World View (Locke) • There are facts about what we should do, both re. personal conduct and re. political communities • moral facts - moral/political philosophy similar to scientific theorizing • For instance, principles of justice become what they are through being in accordance with divine commands about political communities • Mutatis mutandis for other religious, especially theistic views

    7. Hospitable to Equality – “in principle” • People are equal as creatures of God • Every person has relationship to God • everything has “meaning” -- has its function in a purposeful whole • Not immediately connected to an idea of individual rights, but it is a starting point

    8. Can there be morality/ rights without God at all?

    9. “No there can’t, and it’s a cause of despair” • Ivan K: If God is dead, everything is permitted.

    10. “At least not unless there is stringent legal enforcement” • human rights “a kind of puffery or white magic” • concept of right is vacuous without effective enforcement

    11. “No, there can’t (no commitment to equality), and it’s liberating”

    12. Nietzsche, Gay Science, 125 The madman.— Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"— As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?— Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried. "I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I! All of us are his murderers! But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? And backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?—Gods, too, decompose! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!

    13. Why a madman?

    14. Why is he talking to atheists?

    15. The “death of God”?

    16. Nietzsche, Twilight of Idols • Excursions, 5, where Nietzsche finds fault with the English “flatheads:” • Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole. [...] When the English actually believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion.”

    17. Moral equality and the “slave rebellion”

    18. “No point of talking about human rights without God” • Perry, “Is the Idea of Rights Ineliminably Religious?” • insists that there can be no human rights without God – but finds that unproblematic

    19. “Yes, there can be morality/ human rights without God”

    20. Perry’s Argument (1) Conviction that each human being is sacred is foundational to human rights (via “inherent dignity”) (2) Idea of the sacred is ineliminably religious (C) So idea of human rights is ineliminably religious “Without God, no human rights”

    21. “Religious”?

    22. “the trust that the world is finally meaningful in a way hospitable to our deepest yearnings” (p 212) • The question of “why do I exist?” has an answer other than “it just so happens, and can be explained biologically”) • Consolation/reconciliation • Paradigmatic case: theism/divine creation

    23. Non-religious • (roughly) “when somebody dies, I have nothing to say to console friends and families”

    24. Sacredness: religiously • Intrinsic value: value for somebody that is not merely instrumental • Objective value: value that pertains to X regardless of whether X is aware that he/she has that value • “having intrinsic value” and “having objective value” are necessary conditions for “being sacred” (can’t be sacred without either) • Paradigmatic way of being sacred: being the beloved child of God (p 260) • Inviolability that puts demands on everybody

    25. Sacredness: non-religiously? • Ronald Dworkin • Life is highest product of creation (complexity, mental abilities, self-awareness) • each life represents efforts of civilization, parental care, etc. • Therefore life inspires awe in us, admiration, inspiration

    26. Perry’s objection: • “[T]o suggest (…) that something is sacred because it inspires awe in us, because we value it, is to reverse the ordinary order of things.” (p 237) • open to subjective choice: people may not have such awe for certain others, thus their lives would not be sacred to them • Awe for/ inspiration by X not strong enough to make X sacred • If world has no meaning, nothing is sacred; no point to human rights

    27. What is missing on Dworkin’s picture?

    28. What can we no longer say of human beings (that would make them sacred) outside of religious framework?

    29. First possibility • “every person is beloved child of God” • True, but by definition: without religion, no God, no children of God

    30. Second possibility • Can no longer say that there is any point to life • Not true – life can be rewarding in many ways even for the non-religious: subjective well-being; objective contributions • “if the whole does not have meaning, we might still jointly give meaning to certain human activities”

    31. Third possibility • Can no longer say “that every human being is of infinite importance” (Tawney)

    32. Third possibility: means what? • God can do for each human being what no human being could do because it could not be done in finite time, with finite means, etc. • But can still say: every human being matters enormously (within finite means)

    33. Third possibility: means what? • God can do for each human being what no human being could do because it could not be done in finite time, with finite means, etc. • But can still say: every human being matters enormously (within finite means) – good enough

    34. Fourth possibility • Can no longer say that people are plainly wrong if they deny that some people are intrinsically and objectively valuable • But we can: Dworkin spells out one way in which we can, there is just nothing more to it • What to say back to the person that “THOSE people have no such value TO US”? • That they are drawing a distinction on an irrelevant basis

    35. Fifth possibility • Can no longer say people have “inherent dignity” • again, Dworkin offers one way in which we can say that • Kant offers another

    36. Perry’s argument: question-begging • “[T]o suggest (…) that something is sacred because it inspires awe in us, because we value it, is to reverse the ordinary order of things.” (p 237) • thinks this because he assumes there is “an ordinary order of things” • If not, problem he raises does not arise

    37. Perry’s Argument (1) Conviction that each human being is sacred is foundational to human rights (via “inherent dignity”) (2) Idea of the sacred is ineliminably religious (C) So idea of human rights is ineliminably religious “Without God, no human rights”

    38. Result: • Perry has not shown it is impossible to offer non-religious foundations for human rights • suspicion has not been proven • but we of course have yet to provide such non-religious foundations!