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Historical Origins of Human Rights


from rude to ... story: about the decline of rude manners and violent behaviors ... cues, people stopped being rude barbarians and made themselves civilized, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Historical Origins of Human Rights

Historical Origins of Human Rights
  • Lecture 4
  • The Sentimental Revolution
  • January 29, 2007

  • conceptual possibility of human rights
  • the rise of pity
  • treating emotions historically
  • the civilizing process
  • the religious imperative to do good
  • the secularization of pity
  • philosophical revolution
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau

outline contd
  • the politics of pity
  • diffusion
  • the rise of philanthropy
  • conclusion
  • the pain of compassion
  • subjects and objects

concepts and limits
  • a story of the intellectual origins of the
    concepts of humanity and rights does surprisingly
    little to explain the rise of human rights as
    theyre now defined
  • new rights, beginning with rights against torture
    and slavery
  • the culture of their attempted enforcement 
  • the creation of humanitarianism as the ethic of
    individuals and the principle of collective

concepts plus emotions
  • today the sentimental revolution
  • a revolution of human emotion, the way people
    feel towards one another
  • most important factor in the rise of modern human

the rise of pity
  • Moral weeping is the sign of so noble a passion,
    that it may be questioned whether those are
    properly men, who never weep upon any occasion.
    What can be more nobly human than to have a
    tender sentimental feeling of our own and others
    sic misfortune? (Anonymous, 1755).
  • Nature hath implanted in our breast a love of
    others, a sense of duty to them, a moral
    instinct, in short, which prompts us irresistibly
    to feel and to succor others distresses
    (Thomas Jefferson, 1814).

treating emotions historically
  • the malleability of the emotions in history
  • the role of biology
  • constructionism
  • importance of external world/external cues to
    internal states
  • Hannah Arendt History tells us that it is by no
    means a matter of course for the spectacle of
    misery to move men to pity. In the eighteenth
    century, this age old indifference was about to

deep background the civilizing process
  • Norbert Elias (1897-1990)
  • The Civilizing Process (1939)
  • the idea of civilization and civilized
    nations central to origins of humanitarianism
    and human rights culture
  • decline in public tolerance of violence
  • Universal Declaration all humans endowed with
    conscience barbaric acts shock the
    conscience alliance of civilization and
  • one idea progressive moralization

Eliass alternative story culture shift
  • The question of why peoples behavior and
    emotions change is really the same as the
    question of why their forms of living change.
  • contrast between medieval (feudal) and early
    modern manners
  • from rude to civilized manners
  • nobles from knights to courtiers, then
    propagation of values through the population
  • no more spitting in public, utensils (esp. forks)
    at table, blowing nose with hands and openly as
    opposed to in handkerchief with head turned,
    living more and more isolated from the source of
    their food (e.g., meat, once brought out whole to
    the table, began to be prepared behind the scenes
    and brought out cut), new attitudes towards
    nudity (none in public and the origins of pajamas
    and nightdresses in private)

Elias, contd
  • most important, feudal elites welcomed found
    pleasurable the infliction of pain on others
    on animals, on prisoners, on women
  • They must be understood not as something
    negative, as a lack of civilization or of
    knowledge (as it is easy to support from our
    standpoint), but as something that fitted the
    needs of these people and that seemed meaningful
    and necessary to them in exactly this form.
  • Elias on the emotion of aggression (and not
    simply the practice of brutality)
  • questions where did it go? what replaced it?

from a negative toa positive story
  • the civilizing process, at least as Elias
    understood it, is still a negative story about
    the decline of rude manners and violent behaviors
  • how did pity fill the void?

origins of pity in religious imperative to do good
  • the English story latitudinarianism
  • anti-Puritanical stress on good works
  • stress practice over theory
  • replaces not simply warriors ethic of violence
    and honor central to Eliass account -- but
    also Puritan ethic of ascetic disengagement from
    transformation of the world
  • key centrality of feeling to good works
  • anti-Stoic The doctrine of the Stoicks allowed
    the good man to help, but forbad him to Pity and
    Compassionate the Needy. But we learn to do both
    from the Example and the Precepts of our Lord.
    Our Alms must be the Off-spring of our Charity
    and Kindness and if we were allowed to be void
    of Pity and Compassion, tis to be feared our
    relief would be but small. He is most likely to
    help his Neighbour that hath a great sense of his
    Misery. And Christianity hath provided better for
    the Poor than the Philosophy of the Stoicks
    (Richard Kidder).

the secularization of the ethic of pity
  • Man only of all Creatures under Heaven, God has
    given this quality, to be affected with the Grief
    and with the Joy of those of his own kind and to
    feel the Evils which others feel, that we may be
    universally disposed to help and relieve one
    another (Richard Claggett, 1686).
  • nature hath made our neighbours misery our
    pain (Isaac Barrow)
  • from function of Gods command to love (cf. 1
    Corinthians 13) to function of who we are
  • secularization of the ethic of pity meant
    naturalization presenting it as innate in human
  • the major conceptual and practical dilemma they
    wanted to make people compassionate, but they
    were forced by their theory to contend that
    people already were so

a philosophical revolution
  • pivotal figure Anthony Ashley Cooper, (Third)
    Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713)
  • Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times
  • from reason to passion
  • opposing Hobbess passionate man with another
    passionate man -- the man of feeling
  • obvious everyday examples of natural affection,
    parental kindness, zeal for posterity, concern
    for the propagation and nurture of the young,
    love of fellowship and company, compassion,
    mutual succour, and the rest of this kind.
  • perverted affections unnatural and inhuman
    delight in beholding torments, and in viewing
    distress, calamity, blood, massacre and
    destruction. To delight in the torture and pain
    of other creatures indifferently, natives or
    foreigners, of our own or of another species,
    kindred or no kindred, known or unknown to feed
    as it were on death, and be entertained by dying
    agonies is wholly and absolutely unnatural, as
    it is horrid and miserable.
  • Norman Fiering The cluster of English words
    cognate to human that refer essentially to
    compassion as a trait, such as humane,
    humanitarian, humanity, have their firmest
    philosophical origins in Shaftesburys work.

Shaftesburys followers
  • moral sense theory
  • Francis Hutcheson, Scottish Enlightenment
  • David Hume Let us suppose such a person ever so
    selfish let private interest have ingrossed ever
    so much his attention yet in instances, where
    that is not concerned, he must unavoidably feel
    some propensity to the good of mankind, and make
    it an object of choice, if everything else be
    equal. Would any man, who is walking along, tread
    as willingly on anothers gouty toes, whom he has
    no quarrel with, as on the hard flint and
    pavement? There is some particle of the dove,
    kneaded into our frame, along with the elements
    of the wolf and serpent (Enquiry Concerning the
    Principles of Morals).
  • Adam Smith Howsoever selfish man may be
    supposed, there are evidently some principles in
    his nature, which interest him in the fortune of
    others, and render their happiness necessary to
    him, though he derives nothing from it except the
    pleasure of seeing it (Theory of Moral

Nietzsches response
  • This overestimation of and predilection for pity
    on the part of modern philosophers is something
    new hitherto philosophers have been at one as to
    the worthlessness of pity (Genealogy of Morals,

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • age of reason v. age of feeling
  • Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754)
    savage man as characterized by an innate
    repugnance to seeing his fellow men suffer, and
    animated by pity, a disposition that is fitting
    for beings that are as weak and as subject to
    ills as we are.
  • the noble savage
  • suppression of the centrality of human violence
    and brutality that Hobbes or Elias would stress
  • mothers and children
  • feminization of culture?
  • the repugnance horses have for trampling a
    living body with their hooves
  • An animal does not go undisturbed past a dead
    animal of its own species. There are even some
    animals that give them a kind of sepulcher and
    the mournful lowing of cattle entering a
    slaughterhouse voices the impresses they receive
    of the horrible spectacle that strikes them.

towards a politics of pity
  • Rousseaus importance a response to the problem
    that the secularization and naturalization of
    pity left behind how to explain why (some)
    people do not pity one another? the answer
    society itself corrupts natural sympathy
  • the result a politics of pity and compassion,
    the attempt to reform society to make natural
    pity rule
  • individual self-understanding of the humanitarian
  • a collective solution is needed to the corruption
    of pity
  • the power of pity as the engine of politics
  • question what form would this politics take?

  • journalism
  • Joseph Addison and Richard Steele
  • The Tatler and The Spectator
  • novels
  • origins of the novel as part of a didactic
    program of moral education
  • the humanitarian narrative (Thomas Laqueur)

the rise of philanthropy
  • medieval charity giving alms, local (village)
    need, sacred obligation
  • rise in urban centers, disruption of local
    responsibility, rise in vagrancy
  • associational charity (on the model of emerging
  • causes beyond poor hospitals, orphanages,
    deaf/blind, prisoners, slaves
  • distant origins of NGOs in philanthropic
    association in the service of secular causes?
  • modern philanthropy great sums, national
    institutions, secular ethic
  • etymology charity, once a sacred obligation or
    personal quality, became a noun for an institution

  • R.S. Crane The doctrine of the humanitarian,
    sympathetic man as something new in the world
    a doctrine, or rather a complex of doctrines,
    which a hundred years before 1750 would have been
    frowned upon, had it ever been presented to them,
    by representatives of every school of ethical or
    religious thought.

the pain of compassion
  • Nietzsche and Elias stressed that conscience,
    sympathy and pity could only come to rule
    through exercise of new kinds of powerful
    self-constraint and self-suppression following
    cultural cues, people stopped being rude
    barbarians and made themselves civilized,
    mannered men
  •  The world has never lost a certain odor of
    blood and torture (not even in good old Kant the
    categorical imperative smells of cruelty) We
    modern men are the heirs of the
    conscience-vivisection and self-torture of the
    millennia (Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals)

subjects and objects
  • did the objects change in the Enlightenment? were
    torture, slavery, war and other violations new?
  • or did the subject or self change? wasnt it the
    way people regarded violations that changed?
  • if so, isnt the important question what was
    involved in that change?
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