Posted by: dacalu | 22 July 2011

Note on Rights

This is a brief statement on the concept of human rights which I recently wrote in response to a New York Times article.

As a strong believer in the social contract, I am a fan of state granted rights, which I consider tremendously important. If my rights are trampled on, I have recourse to state authority to remedy the situation. These rights make sense to me because of enforcement. For that reason, I find God given rights to be unhelpful, as we apparently do not have recourse to divine agency in remedying violations. I think we have God given responsibilities toward one another summed up in “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Christians have an obligation (which we often do not meet, but still strive for) to care for others. This Christian obligation has inspired the idea of state rights, though admittedly one can arrive there by other means. It is, it turns out, one of the most important applications of (Thomistic) natural law that all humans without recourse to revelation should be able to deduce the same natural rights. The challenge for non-Thomists will be to establish some kind of moral realism that allows rights to be observed rather than constructed. Moral realism makes a profound ontological claim that morals exist independent of the observer and that all (or at least most) humans can observe them sufficiently to draw minimal conclusions; it need not be a “religious” or transcendent claim, but it is necessarily a metaphysical one.
So, as a citizen I favor socially constructed and state enforced human rights. Internationally, I favor the notion of obligations toward all humans as they may be played out in the institution of state enforced rights in every country. I even think it wise to bring influence to bear on other countries to move them toward “human rights.” As a Christian, I do not believe God has granted me any rights – certainly not life (Jesus had no such right), liberty (Daniel had no such right), or the pursuit of happiness (see Jonah, Ezekiel, Amos…). I do believe that I have been called to “seek and serve God in all people” and “respect the dignity of every human being.” Thus the active obligation trumps the passive right.



  1. Thanks for being so humble and following the examples from the Bible.

  2. […] is more I could say (and more I have said here and here), but for now, I simply want to highlight the importance, even the necessity of […]

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