02 September 2013

"The Morality of Human Rights"

I made much good use of Emory Law professor Michael Perry's earlier works in my article, Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here). Earlier this year Perry published a new piece, The Morality of Human Rights that can be downloaded by going here. It is excellent and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in (1) what human rights talk means by "human rights" and (2) what can possibly account for human rights.

Perry does a good job of demonstrating how non-theistic views of human rights have difficulty accounting for either human dignity (what I focused on in my article) or the "inviolable" nature of human rights. Perry doesn't shy away from acknowledging the diversity of opinions on these same questions among theists but describes how it is that non-theists owe a debt of gratitude to theists because:
The agapic sensibility—the agapic orientation to the Other—provides, I am increasingly inclined to think, the deepest nontheistic explanation for why one aspires to live his or her life so as to “act towards all human beings in a spirit of brotherhood.” And perhaps, even for many theists, the deepest explanation: To repeat, many who once were theists but are no longer remain well and comfortably within the grip of the agapic sensibility.
It is this sensibility that provides the psychological engine for the powerful non-theistic commitment to human dignity and the concomitant notion of human rights. But make no mistake, agape love moved to the center of ethics only with the rise of Christianity. I for one am thankful that it has proved sufficiently contagious to survive the collapse of Christendom but I wonder for how much longer the flower of human rights will survive without the stem of theistic belief.

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