Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Framework for the Human Rights Debate

In response to Fr. Araujo's post, Rob asks "[h]ow does a belief in God provide a framework for women's rights that is more capable of authoritatively and accessibly settling disputes over content than than the framework built by the atheist?"  He asks this question because of the elusiveness of answers within Christianity to human rights questions.

I offer two responses.  First, scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, and natural law frame the debate for the Catholic because within the Catholic worldview these sources provide us access (as limited as it may be) to the Truthmaker who reveals to us by way of faith and reason that all human beings - woman included - possess inherent dignity by the very nature of their being.  From the materialist's viewpoint, there is no external truthmaker framing the debate.  In the adsence of a Truthmaker (in the absence of a purposeful and rational Universe), does the materialist have (can the materialist develop) a robust framework for the idea of inherent human dignity?  If so, what is it?  I can't say that I have followed every post in this thread here or on Balkinization, but so far, I haven't seen anyone attempt to build the case for a robust materialistic foundation for human rights.  Instead, what I have seen are attempts to deflate the theistic founadation.  To quote Chris Green, here, does the materialistic worldview have "any entities that could possibly provide ontological support for human rights and genuine morality"?  Is so, lets hear it.

Second, part of the problem, something I see at least implicitly in Rob's post, is the messiness of this whole business.  If a theistic worldview provides an objective basis upon which to build a human rights regime then why is it so difficult to know clearly the answers to specific human rights questions say, for example, with human rights for women? (Another problem is with our will - our ability to live by those answers once known, but I don't sense that this prompted Rob's question).  It seems to be part of the human condition that answers emerge only within history as we are confronted with new questions and new situations and that much disputation and confrontation is required to enlighten our minds and sharpen our thinking.  How often in the annals of history did a conquering culture step back, reflect on, and argue about the humanity and dignity of those conquered?  The fact that Spanish philosophers and theologians did so with respect the humanity and dignity of American Indians is amazing to me.  But, they could do so because they had a common philosophical and theological framework for the debate.  In We Hold These Truths, John Courtney Murray says that we can argue because we have a common foundation - we agree about the foundational issues.  Without a framework, without a robust foundation, we talk past each other and the framework for human rights is a matter of power and not truth.  In short, I wouldn't take the slowness or the messiness of operating within the framework as a reason to discredit the framework or question it vitality.


Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

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