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

Human Rights: Natural Rights versus Positive Rights

I would like to begin by thanking other MOJ contributors who have continued our discussion about human rights and their foundation. Clearly, this discussion is of vital interest to most people. I have little doubt that non-theist promoters of human rights maintain sincerely held convictions about the importance of human rights. But I should like to expand briefly upon my August 17th posting in which I discussed the authorship of these rights.

A major difficulty with the atheistic outlook is the positivism on which it relies. While the atheist may acknowledge the existence of natural rights to which any human can claim, the issue remains one of authorship. For the atheist, it is solely the human intellect; however, for the theist, as I stated in my posting of August 17, it is God.

The principal disagreement between these two perspectives on natural rights involves authorship and the subsequent identity of essential rights. In both perspectives (i.e., atheistic and theistic), human reason plays a role. In the case of the atheistic perspective, human reason possesses a monopoly on identifying and defining the rights that belong to human nature. In the case of the theistic perspective, human reason has a non-exclusive role that must be complemented by God’s position as author of human rights.

This distinction becomes palpable in the contrast between the subjective and objective outlooks I mentioned in my August 17th posting. An illustration of this difference follows: let us say two atheist advocates of human rights debate one another regarding what is constitutive of human rights. They rely solely on what their own intellect reveals to them (this does not preclude their intellect relying on that of another person or group of people, but it is ultimately their personal reason that determines the question). What happens when their respective views collide? They have no objective source upon which to rely to resolve the conflict. With the theist, on the other hand, there is the vital role of the objective source of human rights, i.e., God.

Perhaps this brief posting will prompt more discussion on this crucial topic having a key bearing on the work of MOJ.    RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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