Are All People Entitled To Basic Human Rights? Why? What Is Justice?
Most of us believe today that as humans we are entitled to specific rights independent of the laws made by the government or independent bodies such as the United Nations. The belief in universal rights plays a fundamental role in the domestic and international sphere in justifying and evaluating the political and social policies, initiatives and programs. Yet, despite the prominence of human rights, the premise of human rights remain controversial, puzzling and even problematic. One problem pertains to their universality, are human rights really universal? There are several cultures around the world that do not acknowledge the existence of many of the rights we take for granted. Yet again what fundamental rights are humans entitled to? Are basic human rights absolute or non-absolute?
In addressing the nature of human rights, Simmons (2001) writes that “Human rights are rights possessed by all human beings (at all times and in all places), simply in virtue of their humanity.” Simply put, human rights are rights that all humans possess by virtue of their humanity which can be identified by moral reasoning rather than convectional reasoning. This belief is encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Indeed, irrespective of the cultural, social and physical differences all human beings are entitled to equal moral status which brings the idea that all humans should be accorded similar rights. Based on this premise we can argue that human rights should exist in all places and all times (Freeman, 2002). However, this is not the case as the society has not only evolved with time, but it has also increasingly become complicated with complex governance structures. Indeed, we cannot be accorded rights as basic human rights are not really absolute or universal across all time and places.
In particular, advocates of the political conception argue that human rights should be understood with respect to their function and role in contemporary political practices. For example, Rawls (1999), contends that human rights play an essential role in the law of people as they restrict as well as justify the autonomy of the state. With this said the State which is in this case the external agent can be allowed to interfere to protect the rights of people. Indeed, States define human rights by their own sovereignty which means that basic human rights can be justifiably denied and even taken away when the need arises. For the most part, States uphold the doctrine of proportionality which allows them to interfere with some human rights such as the freedom to worship, freedom of privacy when they need to pursue legitimate claims (Freeman, 2001).
The fact that we recognize that it is wrong for the government to enslave, detain and kill its own citizens is proof that people have rights, but the fact that democracy or the governing constitutions do not adequately protect our own rights is actually a paradox as the very same bodies that are in place to manage our rights may not factor individual rights on the basis of utilitarian policy which seeks the greater good for all under misguided fallacies (Nickel, 2007). Arguably, the State does not have the right to diminish an individual’s noble rights, but it may do so as the ends do justify the means. We may all have distinct rights to freedom, liberty, education and the likes yet sadly; these rights are secured by the government.Sad enough, the political environments in place are bilateral in that what is considered a basic human right may not be a right at all. Take for instance the right of the freedom of expression. The right of expression is a debate that has raised polarized opinions around the globe. Western countries particularly, the USA takes this right seriously but with some exceptions to obscenity, hate speech, fraud, and defamation. On the other hand, most Islamic and communist States such as China that are against western secularization have taken to deny most of the basic human rights altogether. We live at a time when a vast majority of the countries have ratified their human rights treaties as a means to deny her citizens her rights. In much of the world mainly the Islamic world, women lack equality, there is no political freedom, and religious dissenters are prosecuted. Again, under the premise of right holders, we note that some human beings such as minors, individuals with mental illness, or comatose persons do not have sentience and can therefore not have rights. Therefore, holding the view that all human beings possess the right to fundamental human rights is wrong as humans across the world are denied some of these rights.
In ethics, justice is concerned with the prescriptive nature of what should be, what is just and the corresponding actions or response for those who go against justice. Justice can, however, take many different forms based within a practical context of egalitarianism, contractarianism, and utilitarianism (Miller, 2017). Indeed, one notion of justice is pegged on one’s metaethical position and the underlying approach they hold towards normative ethics. For example, a moral skeptic who favors utilitarianism will approach morality based on the impact that the decision may have on the environment and the people within whereas a religious absolutionist is likely to base his concept of justice on some religious dogma. Various conceptions of justice put it in dependence to the legal system within aspects of fairness or equality, human rationality and even religious teachings (Islamic Sharia).
In Plato’s view, justice is the will to fulfill one’s duty without meddling in the duties of others. This also applies to States who have a duty to deliberate on justice. In respect to human rights, there is no denying that the State has legal rights to define the basic understanding of justice. Indeed, human rights can be fully justifiable within a democratic regime that is grounded on morality and the autonomy of a person who is the right holder of justice. Justice is also concerned with respecting the realms of morality which implies that every person has a right to justification within relevant moral and legal contexts. This would implicitly, mean that justice is also a primal, basic human right.
According to encyclopedia Britannica, “truth, in metaphysics and the philosophy of language, the property of sentences, assertions, beliefs, thoughts, or propositions that are said, in ordinary discourse, to agree with the facts or to state what is the case.” From this definition, truth refers to the actuality or reality of something. Something can thus be said to be true if it can be publically acknowledged and the opposite is true. Indeed, anything that is contrary to the truth is inevitably false. Truth and false is not simply a black and white situation as it seems. All truths are simply a matter of opinion as truth differ relatively from one culture, society, and era. Truth is therefore mostly subjective as something that I assert to be true, say, for instance, I know that my mother is my biological parent; however, DNA tests may refute or accept my claims.
According to Aristotle, something is said to be true if it corresponds to some facts provided. Aristotle’s idea roots in the correspondence theory of truth which point’s truth to the correspondence of fact. From this end, scientific evidence provides facts as to the effectiveness of a medical regime based on some facts (Blackburn, 2009). I also know that my mother is my biological parent based on the facts or evidence that I have gathered growing up. However, the truth I believe can only be further developed in terms of notions such as biological tests and backing. Indeed, it is always not possible to give an acceptable explanation of some facts as they may be unknown entities and merely act as arrangements of thing or structures in the world. For example, it is a known fact that the statue of liberty is in America and it cannot be moved anywhere. However, the statue can be moved from New York to another State. Furthermore, facts given in a given case can simply be nothing more from people’s beliefs about the case which is to mean the beliefs that people take to be true. There is really no platform of forming a theory about some matter and then process the views to ascertain their validity. In contrast, there are processes of checking the validity of things yet this is mostly done through how people interpret and conceptualize the given facts (Davidson, 2000). In this respect, one community’s beliefs may be that twins are a taboo to the community and no matter the facts presented a group of people may still hold negative views about twin births.
Because of the underlying criticism surrounding facts, a group of philosophers in the 19th century proposed that truth realism truth which postulates that truth should be ascertained based on broader theories rather than small assertions (Davidson, 2000). Truth in this context must be a feature of an overall body of beliefs that consists of logically interrelated ideas or components. This may be scientific theories such as the law of gravity. The truth in such beliefs makes rational sense because it is coherent and backed with enough beliefs or alternative beliefs to that matter that are a realist. Yet, nothing prevents the existence of multiple theories on the same issue. Indeed, there may be various coherent but incompatible systems of truth however,only of them or multiple of the arguments may be true (Williams, 2004) . Take, for instance, the science on weight loss. There are multiple yet differentiated studies on weight loss, which may be accurate based on their effectiveness. From this idea, there may be many systems that are internally coherent, yet people will compare the same on a utilitarian basis such that the most useful system will survive and generally applied by people as the others go extinct. Nonetheless, the universal truth about some things remains unchanged regardless of the underlying theories in place. For example, mathematical truth such as the basic addition of 1 + 1= 2, is universally accepted for all the people that hold the concept and understanding of the basis of addition and there is no other explanation regarding the same.
At the same time, we cannot deny that something may be said to be true based on a collective agreement. The idea is that a group of people share a particular claim of truth and form a preposition on the practicality of the same and the truth will hold (Blackburn, 20009). I think this is the claim for scientific discoveries and research. One or a group of scientists discover something; they then make publications with regards to the same. Other scientists then validate the theory as being based on further experimentation. The whole world may reject the claim as being true, yet the collective agreement among the group members may establish the beliefs as being the truth.
There is no one absolute truth in ethics. The truth parameter is pegged on people’s perceptions of what they believe which is a result of their individual moral values as such people tend to set their parameters of truth based on their moral practices. Therefore, truth is ethics may change with people’s beliefs (Williams, 2004). For example, one person says that taking alcohol can affect his productivity at work, yet another person says that he can still take alcohol and still remain productive. From these, the two individuals have set their own parameters of truth, and so we get two different values of truths. Apart from ethical theories on truth, the reality is that people don’t spend much time thinking about what is true or not true based on some theoretical views. People tend to get by the world through the understanding that is imposed to us by the larger community. This is because we have different backgrounds, beliefs, genetics, dispositions, personalities and experiences that shape the way we view the world. This makes it impossible to have a definitive set of absolute truth about anything because our views and perceptions of the world is a product of our individual perspectives. On the other hand, we can’t deny that the world has an influence on the way in which we view and interpret things. The world can be the veil or the lenses through which we experience things, there is therefore no simple objective of the reality. At one point or another, we have to make decisions on important issues on religion, politics, consumerism and life in general. In each case, we may make decisions based on our moral grounds. Most importantly the direction we take on which truth or rather ideology to follow will impact several things in life, and at time we are forced to seek consensus into what we shall consider to be the truth.
Blackburn, W. S. (April 20, 2009). Truth. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/truth-philosophy-and-logic
Davidson, D. (2000). A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge. In S. Bernecker, & F. Dretske (Eds.), Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology (pp. 413-428). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Freeman, M. (2002). Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Cambridge: Polity.
Miller, D. (2017). Justice”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved fromhttps://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/justice/
Nickel, J. (2007). Human Rights. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sections 1 and 2.
Simmons, J. (2001). Human Rights and World Citizenship: The Universality of Human Rights in Kant and Locke,’ in Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.N. website). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html
Velasquez, M. (2011).Utilitarianism”, from Philosophy: A Text With Readings (11th edition), Boston: Wadsworth.
Williams, B. (2004). Truth and Truthfulness. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.