Chapter8HumanRights16Feb09 - Ch8HumanRights16Feb09.doc 1...

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Ch8HumanRights16Feb09.doc 16Feb09 Chapter Eight: Human Rights by John R Searle This book is mostly about the nature of, and the relations between, institutions, institutional facts, status functions, and deontic powers. Prominent among the nouns in English that name these deontic powers is “right,” along with others such as “obligation,” “duty,” “entitlement,” and “authorization.” Most of the rights that one can think of, exist within institutions: the rights of property owners and university students, for example. But now we reach a peculiar apparent anomaly. It is generally agreed that there are such things as human rights, even universal human rights that I do not have in virtue of my institutional memberships, such as the rights of a citizen, a professor or a husband; but rights that I have solely in virtue of being a human being. How can there be such things? Does it really make sense to talk about human rights as distinct from the rights of husbands, professors and citizens? People talk comfortably about universal human rights, but I have not heard much, nor indeed any, talk about universal human obligations. As we will see later in this chapter, if there are such things as universal human rights, it follows logically that there are universal human obligations. But if you pose the question, “Are there universal human obligations?” it certainly sounds different from the question, “Are there universal human rights?” There is a peculiar intellectual hole in current discussions of human rights. Most philosophers, and indeed most people, seem to find nothing problematic in the notion of universal human rights. Indeed Bernard Williams tells us that there is no problem with the existence of human rights, only with their implementation and enforcement. He writes, “We have a good idea of what human rights are. The most important problem is not that of identifying them but that of getting them enforced.” 1 But there is a skeptical tradition founded by Jeremy Bentham and continued by Alasdair MacIntyre that finds the whole idea of universal human rights absurd. If we are going to make sense of the notion of rights we have to answer the question what exactly is their ontological status? The ontological status of property rights and citizenship rights is much less problematic, and indeed one of the aims of this book is this lay out 1 Williams, Bernard. In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in the Political Argument , Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2005. p62 1
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Ch8HumanRights16Feb09.doc 16Feb09 the logical structure of such status functions. Can we do a similar analysis on universal human rights? Let us start with the skeptical argument.
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This note was uploaded on 10/02/2011 for the course PHIL 138 taught by Professor Searle,j during the Fall '08 term at Berkeley.

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Chapter8HumanRights16Feb09 - Ch8HumanRights16Feb09.doc 1...

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