Who is my neighbor?
personalism and the foundations of human rights
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: The Catholic University of America Press
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Foreword by Mary Ann Glendon
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In 1998, while immersed in the history of the framing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I gave a lecture at Notre Dame University titled, “Foundations of Human Rights: The Unfinished Business.”1 I deplored a fact I had only just discovered: that so little progress had been made on a project that the framers of that 1948 document had left for future generations, the task...
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Human rights language poses serious problems that require a reasoned response. The ubiquity of references to human rights in secular and ecclesiastical circles could give the impression that a common understanding exists regarding rights. Such an impression vanishes, however, when one listens closely. It seems that everyone—within the Catholic Church and without—talks about...
PART ONE. RIGHTS IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Many arguments end once terms are carefully defined. How many times do people ardently debate issues only to find that their differences boil down to equivocal terminology? How often do we assume that others share our perception of the terms and concepts we use, only to learn much later that such a common...
1. Defining Human Rights
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If asked TO LIST SPECIFIC human rights, most people raised nowadays in the Western tradition could easily come up with a considerable number. Answers would range from the right to life and liberty to the right to free speech and from the right to assembly and selfexpression to reproductive rights. Yet if these same people were asked for a definition of rights, most...
2. Some Needed Nuances
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The difficulty of defining rights is further aggravated by the appendage of numerous adjectives to the noun “rights,” resulting in a broad range of “classes” of rights. Thus even a good definition of rights still does not tell the whole story. Rights often appear together with modifiers that alter their meaning, sometimes substantially. Human rights are not the same as civil rights, and...
3. The Church and Human Rights
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To the surprise of many—and the dismay of some—the Catholic Church has not only kept pace with the rest of society in its espousal of rights language, it has led the way in introducing such language into social dialogue and has stood out as a defender of human rights on the international scene.1 Even in the midst of mounting misgivings about rights talk, especially...
PART TWO. THE CASE AGAINST RIGHTS
Though human rights are more accepted today than ever before, they are not without serious opponents. In the political arena some countries— China comes immediately to mind—refuse to subscribe to international rights accords for reasons of political expediency. Accepting the notion of universal human rights would lead to practical consequences and policy changes to...
4. The Accusation of Nonexistence
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Among the philosophers who reject wholly or in part the concept of human rights, perhaps none does so in as bold and thoroughgoing a manner as the American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (1929–). For this reason, as well as for his status as a believing Catholic, MacIntyre makes a good representative for those who oppose rights on behalf of philosophy...
5. The Accusation of Inseparability
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Asecond representative of the reaction against rights language is Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (1950–), political philosopher from Oxford, England. While MacIntyre attempts to show the philosophical nonexistence of rights, O’Donovan adopts a different approach. She argues that the concept of rights is inseparable from its origins in an Enlightenment, Liberal...
6. The Accusation of Innovation
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Athird argument against rights comes from Ernest L. Fortin (1923– 2002), a Straussian who for years taught Catholic theology and political theory at Boston College, where he also codirected the Institute for the Study of Politics and Religion. As a theologian and political philosopher, Fortin saw “a number of tensions inherent in the Church’s current position on social matters,” many of which are linked directly with the Church’s...
PART THREE. A NEW SOLUTION TO AN OLD PROBLEM: THOMISTIC PERSONALISM
A solid theory of human rights demands more than the ability to parry contrary arguments. After the pars destruens comes the more essential pars construens. And since sound moral theory depends on a sound philosophical anthropology, rights theory will stand or fall with its understanding of the human person. With these points in mind, personalism appears as a particularly well...
7. A Personalism Primer
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THE TITLE “personalism” can legitimately be applied to any school of thought or intellectual movement that focuses on the reality of the person (human, angelic, divine) and on his unique dignity, insisting on the radical distinction between persons and all other beings (nonpersons).1 As a philosophical school, personalism draws its foundations from human reason and experience, though historically personalism has nearly always been attached...
8. The Person according to Personalism
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PERSONALISM IS NOT in the first place a theory of the person or a theoretical science of the person. It focuses rather on the person as subject and object of activity and thus deals fundamentally with practical and ethical questions. Nonetheless, since every ethical theory depends on its underlying suppositions about the person, a proper anthropology is essential. Thomistic personalism...
9. Dignity and Its Due
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WHEN THE OBJECT of one’s action is a person, an ethical structure enters into play that is absent when the object of one’s action is a thing. Thus without ignoring the immanence of human action and its effects on the character of the moral agent, personalists lay special emphasis on the transitive nature of human acts and the dignity of the one being acted upon, i.e., the reason why this ethical dimension emerges. The fundamental....
10. The Two Loves
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Wojtyla divides all free human action into using (incorporating other realities into one’s own ends) and loving (affirming others as an end in themselves). He furthermore defines love as treating others as an end and never as a mere means. The truth of these two claims is not immediately self-evident. If the psychological sciences have taught us anything, it is that human behavior is an extremely complex and knotty business. Can all transitive human action really be broken into use...
11. From Love to Human Rights
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tHE FOREGOING EXPOSITION, especially as regards Wojtyla’s personalistic principle, offers the elements needed to determine the fundamental content of the “special regard” to which human persons are entitled by reason of their dignity. Human dignity gives rise to a primordial right from which other rights flow.1 Each and every human being is to be treated...
12. Christ and Human Dignity
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philosophy does not have the final word on natural rights. A personalistic analysis of human rights takes place fundamentally on the level of natural law, since natural rights as such are comprehensible as principles of justice.1 Nonetheless, divine revelation adds much to the discussion and both confirms and exceeds what human reason alone can grasp. Christian...
PART FOUR. HUMAN RIGHTS AND CLASSICAL ETHICS
The firm theoretical grounding of human rights provided by Thomistic personalism harmonizes perfectly with traditional natural law theory, as many authors affirm.1 The frequent accusations made to the contrary— such as those by William Edgar, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological...
13. Natural Law
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THE FACT OF HUMAN FREE WILL—which entails the power to act or refrain from acting, to deliberate, evaluate, and choose among different courses of action—necessitates criteria from which to judge alternatives and arrive at practical decisions. Unlike irrational animals, the human person does not act out of necessity but may exercise free choice. When he...
14. Natural Justice
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THE CARDINAL VIRTUE OF JUSTICE holds the primary place in the matrix of natural law precepts.1 Human reason is capable of discerning that certain things are naturally due to other human beings by a quality of their humanity termed dignity. To understand how natural rights square with natural law theory, and especially with the classical understanding of natural...
15. Natural Rights in Classical Theory
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ESTABLISHING THE CENTRAL POSITION of natural justice within the global framework of the natural law is vital for locating natural rights within classical ethical theory. It is the essential tie of rights to natural justice that will guarantee the place of natural rights within natural law theory and thus verify...
PART FIVE. TOWARD AN ETHICS OF SOLIDARITY
The personalist approach to explaining the foundation of human rights opens the door to a new brand of ethics, one centered on actively promoting the good of one’s fellow men instead of just refraining from doing them any harm. The Church has come to designate this proactive vision of human rights as the virtue of “solidarity.” It has its roots in the...
16. Who Is My Neighbor?
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THE PERSONALIST APPROACH affirms that every human person, regardless of intelligence, talents, social class, skin color, religious affiliation, or other distinguishing characteristics, has a right to be loved. Basic natural rights, beginning with the right to be loved for one’s own sake, are predicated universally of all human beings. The radical difference between...
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Page Count: 358
Publication Year: 2012