30 April 2015

More on Human Rights Theory

I've previously posted here about the fine work that Michael Perry does in trying to get to some sort of warrant for human rights. I used Perry's earlier work in my 2010 article Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here).

You can go here and here to download Perry's latest two-fer, Human Rights Theory, 1: What Are "Human Rights"? Against the "Orthodox" View and Human Rights Theory, 2: What Reason Do We Have, If Any, to Take Human Rights Seriously? Beyond "Human Dignity"?

The first article surveys the field in an attempt to discern what is the referent of today's ubiquitous "human rights talk." His second article, which is closer to my interests, looks behind the chimera of "human dignity" to document that there is no "there" there, at least for philosophical naturalists. As Perry frames the question,
The dignity ... claim coheres well with some theistic worldviews, including the Christian worldview. But does the claim also cohere, as well or at all, with any secular worldview? By a "secular" worldview I mean, here, a worldview that either denies or is agnostic about the existence of a "transcendent" reality--a reality of the sort that often (but not invariably) referred to as "God"--as distinct from the reality that is or could be the object of scientific inquiry.
In a more in-depth manner than I mustered in Looking for Bedrock, Perry argues for the negative. Because his Human Rights Theory, 2 is only the second in a three-part series, he does not reach a conclusion. Perry does, however, undermine many securitized accounts for the notion of dignity.

Tucked away in a footnote Perry refers to Brian Leiter who I take to be the foremost pragmatist and thorough-going philosophical naturalist among legal scholars today. Leiter takes a rather insouciant view of the challenges faced by naturalism when it comes to providing accounts of fundamental notions like human dignity. Indeed, Leiter makes what he conceives to be a rebuttal to the challenge of the naturalistic fallacy in Normativity for Naturalists (download here).

I look forward to reading Perry's response as he progresses into Human Rights Theory, 3. (For what it's worth, I do not find Leiter's argument convincing. Grounding norms in "workability" strikes me as no "grounding" at all. Yet, it seems to be adequate for Leiter and other naturalists.)

In any event, I recommend Perry's articles to folks who want an expanded and updated version of the one I set forth in Looking for Bedrock.

1 comment:

  1. Scott, I think part of the problem with Leiter's work here is that he, ultimately, is not an ontological realist, since he relies on Quine's view of philosophy and naturalism. Even empirical truth is only intersubjective agreement. This is a legacy of Kantian transcendental idealism that the linguistic turn failed to overcome. Norms can only be pragmatic correlation, from this perspective. For me, I think the only way out this is some sort of speculative realism.