Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Rights-in-relation: need for an anthropology

Cardinal Angelo Scola, speaking in Venice recently, discussed the phenomenon of the expansion of the notion of 'rights' in the context of modern political discourse without any agreed philosophy underpinning them.
We are faced with a paradox: a hitherto unprecedented circulation and expansion of rights in tandem with a degree of vagueness about their content... Looked at from one side, any catalogue of rights has formidable economic and social implications, but in truth it is itself the product of a certain view of man which is always I-in-relation. To recover the true face of rights it is indispensable to engage with their anthropological and social dimensions: an objective on which the various sciences and disciplines converge, each with its own specificity but in a perspective which increasingly requires a transdisciplinary dimension.
It seems to me that the Cardinal is getting at the following. Human rights can only be based on (a) the inherent or intrinsic value of the person, existing in relation to God, cosmos, environment, and fellow human beings, and (b) the actual needs (rather than wants) of that person in that situation if he is not just to survive but to flourish. This requires that we know at least roughly what a human being is and what causes him to flourish - in other words, we need an adequate anthropology. Without that, we are whistling in the dark.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully put! It seems to me that rights have become a bargaining chip in our Hobbesian social contract, meaning whatever the negotiator wants them to mean during the specific negotiation.

    Without a common view of man, at least without a recognition of personhood and the wonder of man, all talk of rights will be available to the holders of power to extend their undefined powers.

    In other words, it seems that only a view of man as Imago Dei can keep governments in check for the long haul.

    Keep up the good work!