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Moral and Social Philosophy 2 MSP2


Tutor: Rev Howard Taylor(University Chaplain) Also teaches here: ... ( Suzi Leather, Chair, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority - HFEA. November 2005) ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Moral and Social Philosophy 2 MSP2

Moral and Social Philosophy (2)(MSP2)
  • Wednesday Lectures.
  • Tutor Howard Taylor.
  • x4508
  • http//

MSP 2 Wednesday Classes.
  • Tutor Rev Howard Taylor(University Chaplain)
  • Also teaches here
  • 1/3 of MSP 1, 1/3 of MSP 3.
  • Philosophy of Science and Religion - (School of
    Management and Languages).
  • Takes Sunday Campus service. 11.30am Chaplaincy.
    Term time only.
  • Previously
  • Parish Minister in West of Scotland - 17 years.
  • Visiting lecturer International Christian
    College a University in Shanghai.
  • Author of several small books/booklets.
  • 16 years in Malawi, Africa.
  • Minister.
  • Theology lecturer
  • African Language teacher.
  • Maths and Physics lecturer University of Malawi.
  • Degrees from Nottingham, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
  • Married with three grown up sons and four
    grandsons and two granddaughters.

MSP2 (Wednesday Classes) Three main subjects
  • 1. Introduction to Human Bioethics.
  • 2. Challenges to Morality
  • Genetic Determinism and Sociobiology.
  • Logical Positivism
  • 3. Can the concepts of Human Rights and
    Equality be a basis for moral decisions?

  • The tutor does his best to be fair to all views -
    religious and non-religious.
  • However in the interests of honesty he will
    explain what he believes.
  • Although the tutor has his own religious
    convictions, the assessment of essays and
    tutorials will not be affected by a student's own
    different convictions.
  • Knowledge of the subject and good argument are
    all important for assessment.
  • Holding the same beliefs as, or different beliefs
    from, the tutor will not be relevant for module

An Introduction to some issues in Human
Bioethics. Relevant to this discussion is the
nature of the soul or self. I discuss the
self or souls nature and mystery in other
modules - also in Power Point format. Briefly,
those who favour giving science freedom to
advance in genetic technology emphasise the
potential huge medical benefits, and those
opposed emphasise the sanctity of life at its
earliest stage and fear the slippery slope into
eugenics (attempts to produce the perfect race
and the dangers of discrimination against the
imperfect.) practised by the Nazis.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research. Abortion is not
used to obtain these embryos. Only no-use In
Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) embryos are used for
research. (They would otherwise be discarded.)
Many ova are removed from the womb and
fertilised. Only one or two are returned to the
womb. The remainder are either discarded or
available for experiments. However in October
2005 ways were found to change the embryo so it
would not be viable and therefore could not grow
into a human and so be another self. It would
then be harvested for stem cells. Or secondly the
one harvested could still be re-implanted - even
though one stem cell had been removed and stored
for future use. See article Technical fixes may
not solve Embryo Stem Cell ethical problems. By
Donald Bruce.
What is IVF? Use of artificial techniques to join
an ovum with sperm outside (in vitro) woman's
body to help infertile couples to have a children
of their own. The basic technique of IVF involves
removing ova from a woman's ovaries, fertilising
them in the laboratory, and then inserting them
into her uterus. The first test-tube baby,
Mary Louise Brown, was born in England in 1978.
Human Reproduction and differentiation. Male
sperm and female ovum combine to form new
embryo. The nucleus of this new embryo is a new
DNA code which is derived from both mother and
father. For the first 14 days this embryo divides
and multiplies but is not a miniature human
being. It is more like a recipe. Each cell has
the same DNA code. Each cell has the potential to
form any part of the body. At 14 days, the cells
differentiate. Different parts of the code in
each cell are switched off and so each cell now
knows what part of the body it is to form. What
differentiates a skin cell (say) from a heart
cell (say) is the parts of the code that are
switched off. At this stage of differentiation
(a great mystery) we have the beginnings of a
human being in miniature.
Reproductive Cloning - not used for humans yet. A
cell is removed from the skin (say) of a mature
person and its DNA is put in the nucleus of a new
cell (the cells own DNA nucleus having been
removed.) An electric current or chemical is used
to fuse the new nucleus with the egg which is
tricked into accepting it. This mature
differentiated skin DNA then undifferentiates
(how this happens is a mystery). New egg is put
in the womb. So now we have an egg with a DNA
derived not from a loving relation between male
and female but from one persons skin (say). This
is the ethical problem of reproductive
cloning. Baby will be a clone or twin of the life
that gave cells of skin. This process was used to
produce Dolly the sheep - which died early of
old age related illnesses. Reproductive cloning
of humans is dangerous and illegal.
Therapeutic Cloning. (Legal in UK but each case
needs special permission) Same procedure as above
- but the new cell is only allowed to divide and
grow up to 14 days - ie still in a
pre-differentiated state. In the 14 days stem
cells are harvested and cultured. Being
undifferentiated, they can be used indefinitely
as (1) a source of tissue for any part of the
donors body or (2) for researching causes of,
and cures for, diseases. The stem cells have the
same DNA code as the donor and therefore there is
no danger of rejection of the implanted
tissue. These stem cells are not embryos -
detached from the embryos outer layer, they have
no potential to grow into babies. For 14 days
the embryo, before being killed, is a source of
stem cells.
  • Hybrid Embryos (Animal and human) are in more use
    animal cells implanted with human DNA. These are
    in potentially more plentiful supply than human
  • See handout Hybrid.doc

Ethical issues with therapeutic cloning involve
(1) enormous health benefits to be gained. (2)
the status of this undifferentiated embryo - soon
to be discarded. Is it human? deserving of some
respect but not as a human? deserving no
respect? Those who deny that it is human say that
the pre-differentiated embryo can still be
induced to form twins - so it is not one
self. Opponents say there is no need to use an
artificially produced embryos to get stem cells.
They are present in the blood and bone marrow of
an adult. Response yes but the embryonic stem
cells are more flexible and easier to work with.
Potential results from embryonic stem cells are
greater than stem cells taken from mature bone
Embryo and Genetic Screening. Should parents know
in advance of any potential or certain genetic
disease in their unborn baby? A childhood
disease, or for example, late onset Huntingdon's
or Alzheimer's. Would you like to know about your
future? If you were told you had a genetic
disease should you have children? If you already
have children should you tell them? Should your
insurance company have the right to know? What
about information on government data bases and
identity cards?
Embryo Screening and Abortion. At present
abortion for a diagnosed serious disease is
allowed up to birth. What counts as serious?
Slippery slope. Cleft pallet. What about people
with genetic defects we know? Should they have
been killed in the womb? Jessica.
(No Transcript)
PGD Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Diagnosis
of genetic diseases in the embryo before it is
implanted back into the womb. PND Pre Natal
Diagnosis. Diagnosis of potential genetic
diseases before birth through extracting fluid
from the mothers womb. This may lead to advice
re possible abortion.
PGD is a technique that has been used in the UK
for a number of years. Since the introduction of
PGD thousands of children world wide have been
born free from life-threatening conditions, such
as cystic fibrosis or haemophilia, which
otherwise would have severely threatened the
quality of life. (Suzi Leather, Chair, Human
Fertilisation and Embryology Authority - HFEA.
November 2005) My comment. Actually the embryos
showing signs of disease have not been cured but
killed. Then a new one (another physical being)
has been born free from that disease.
Saviour Siblings. (28th April 2005 - Law Lords
back couples plea to create designer baby to
cure son.) Parents have a sick or dying child. A
tissue match from a compatible child might cure
him/her. Several eggs taken from mothers womb
(some may have been left over from previous IVF)
and a match is sought and found. The match must
be compatible but not contain the defective gene
of the sick child. The other eggs are
discarded. Will the new child feel it was chosen
just for its spare parts? Will it be happy or
unhappy that it was born to save another, rather
than born only for the normal reasons? Is the new
child there as a commodity? Surely its own
attitude of self-giving or resentment will
determine the answer as to how it develops as a
human being.
Designer babies - a Post-Human Future? If embryos
can be selected for qualities that could help a
sibling, what about other qualities such as
Gender, intelligence, height, athletic
ability? What about future science removing some
of our feelings, e.g. phobias, guilt feelings,
feelings of horror at genetic engineering,
revulsion that we are no longer human? The
powerful could engineer happy and content slaves
who do not regret the loss of an earlier
humanity. Possibilities like these are taken very
seriously by some academics especially Dr. Nick
Bostrom of Oxford Uni who favours a post human
future as long as the science is guided morally.
(I asked him Who guides the morality?) Other big
names in this transhumanism are Lee Silver,
Joseph Fletcher, Linus Pauling, and James
Rachels). See also Couples may get chance to
design the 'ideal' IVF baby.
A Christian Perspective. Should humans play God?
All medical techniques involve interference with
the course of a decaying physical nature. Maybe
(being in the image of God) we are meant to be
creative? However God, in creating creatures in
His image for love and fellowship did not clone
Himself! Christian theology cannot give all the
answers to the difficult ethical questions.
However we can say certain things about our
humanity. Image of God. Relationship. Reproduction
should be from a loving committed relationship
between a man and woman.
A Christian Perspective continued. Our humanity
is not an accident. It is Gods purpose that we
be human not post-human. The image of God is best
seen in Christ who is the Image of the Invisible
God.(Colossians 115) Christs identity with us
goes back to his conception in the womb of
Mary. John the Baptist was filled with the
Spirit, even from his mother's womb. (Luke 115).
A Christian Perspective Continued. A few verses
from Psalm 139. For you formed my inward parts
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I
praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully
made. Wonderful are your works my soul knows it
very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when
I was being made in secret, intricately woven in
the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my
unformed substance. It is the exposition of
these great facts of theology that should enable
doctors and geneticists to have the perspective
they need to make the ethical judgements they
face. Christian theology cannot determine all
that is right and wrong in biotechnology but it
can give the basis needed to make difficult
  • What about Genetic engineering and human
  • See handouts
  • A Godless world finds identity in biology. (Times
    20th January 2004).
  • We should fear the disturbing future where man
    becomes superman. (Times 12th October 2004)
  • We briefly refer to the book
  • Our Posthuman Future by Francis Fukuyama.
  • The books subject is the biotechnology
    revolution - its promises and dangers.
  • With developing techniques for genetic
    engineering and perhaps designer babies, we face
    the questions
  • What is it to be human?
  • How do we differentiate between right and wrong?

Fukuyama considers the following approaches to
the answers a. religion (we learn from God our
true nature), b. natural law (what we discern
from nature), c. positivism (customs and rules of
society - made by us). He dismisses positivism,
skirts round religion and so chooses natural law.
Francis Fukuyamas Our Posthuman Future
continued. From nature Fukuyama believes we can
discern a factor X that uniquely is the essence
of humanity It consists of a combination of
language, emotions, and the ability for abstract
reasoning. He concludes that any biotechnology
must not interfere with these characteristics of
our species. If they do they will have produced a
non-human being. Even if he is right that these
qualities do constitute true humanity, he does
not say why they should be valued. Why should
humanity be valued? As philosophers since Hume
realised one cannot get an ought from an is
or are. The statement This is what people
ought to be does not follow from the statement
this is what people are.
Watch DVD on Biotechnology.
Challenges to Morality.1. Scientism and Genetic
  • Read Handout entitled What is Scientism?
  • Especially note the consequences for moral
    thinking which come from the quotations from
    Bertrand Russell and the Los Angeles judge.
  • Our question is not Do Genes affect our
    behaviour? - Of course they do! The question is
    rather Could genes and other physical factors
    provide the complete explanation of why we behave
    as we do or is there, in addition, genuine free

  • Read Handout Moral credit where it is due by
    Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.
  • If genes entirely determine our bad behaviour, do
    they also determine
  • our good behaviour?
  • our opinions about the difference between good
  • (How could we tell that my genes produce better
    behaviour than your genes? What standard could we
    use to determine what better means?)
  • the decisions that law makers make?
  • the decisions law enforcers make about other

  • A fairly new theory, defined by Edward O. Wilson
    (one of its main proponents) as the systematic
    study of the biological basis of all social
    behaviour. (Sociobiology the New Synthesis, 1975
    page 3.) It states that genetics and evolution
    are the main factors responsible, not only our
    existence, but also for our behaviour and sense
    of right and wrong.
  • In his book Consilience Wilson expounds this.
  • See my critical review (published in the journal
    Philosophia Christi). The review is also on my
    web pages.
  • Sometimes supporters of Sociobiology say we
    actually exist for the benefit and propagation of
    our genes.
  • (E.g. Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene
    and quotations from Dawkins and Wilson - next

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to
make more copies of the same DNA Flowers are
for the same thing as everything else in the
living kingdoms, for spreading copy me
programmes about, written in DNA language. This
is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for
propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a
self sustaining process. It is every living
objects sole reason for living. (Richard
Dawkins The Ultraviolet Garden, Royal
Institution Christmas Lecture No. 4, 1991) The
individual organism is only the vehicle (of
genes), part of an elaborate device to preserve
and spread them with the least possible
biochemical perturbation .. The organism is only
DNAs way of making more DNA. (E. O. Wilson,
Sociobiology The New Synthesis, Harvard
University Press, 1975, p. 3.) (I owe these
quotations to Denis Alexanders Rebuilding the
Matrix p. 274) See handout A New Religion by
David Stove.
  • Critics say Sociobiology
  • threatens our motivation to change the world for
    the better.
  • turns genes into new kinds of gods for whose
    purpose we live!
  • A long article, available on request, is
  • Against Sociobiology - by Tom Bethell (Senior
    Editor of the American Spectator)

Read handout ALL IN THE GENES ? by physics
professor Russell Stannard.
  • The theory of evolution and survival of the
    fittest possibly could be used to explain some
    forms of altruism - in humans and animals.
  • However there are other kinds of altruism that
    could not have come from survival of the
  • How can the altruism, that has no physical
    survival value, be explained?
  • My question
  • Suppose our sense of morality could, one day, be
    explained completely by our biological make up,
    does that mean that there is no such thing as
    intrinsic good and intrinsic evil, so that
    cruelty (say) is not in itself evil - its just
    that we dont like it?

Before we move on to consider Positivism we
consider some words of Bertrand Russell in his
Introduction to his History of Western
  • All definite knowledge belongs to science all
    dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge
    belongs to theology. But between theology and
    science there is a No Man's Land, .. this No
    Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the
    questions of most interest to speculative minds
    are such as science cannot answer, and the
    confident answers of theologians no longer seem
    convincing .... (The questions are) Is the
    world divided into mind and matter, and, if so
    what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject
    to matter, or is it possessed of independent
    powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is
    it evolving towards some goal? Are there really
    laws of nature, or do we believe in them only
    because of our innate love of order? Is man what
    he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure
    carbon and water impotently crawling on a small
    unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to
    Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a
    way of living that is noble and another that is
    base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If
    there is a way of living that is noble. In what
    does it consist, and how shall we achieve it?
    Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to
    be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the
    universe is inexorably moving towards death? To
    such questions no answer can be found in the
    laboratory. . The studying of these questions,
    if not the answering of them, is the business of

A further look at Bertrand Russells questions
that he says cannot be answered from science. (1)
Questions in blue raise fundamental mysteries.
  • Is the world divided into mind and matter, or are
    mind and physical brain identical?
  • If the mind is not merely physical matter, what
    is it?
  • And what is physical matter? (Quantum mechanics
    and String theory expose the inherent mystery)

A further look at Bertrand Russells questions
that he says cannot be answered from science. (2)
  • Does nature have a purpose?
  • If there is a purpose, can this purpose be
    understood from within nature or does it imply a
    transcendent reality for which it exists?
  • Do good and evil exist as objective realities or
    are they just the product of the way we, as
    individuals or societies, have developed?
  • For example
  • Is cruelty to children evil in itself
    (intrinsically evil) or is it just that we dont
    like it?
  • Are courage and kindness good in themselves
    (intrinsically good), or is it just that we like

  • Here is a statement attributed to Russell
  • "Whatever knowledge is attainable must be
    obtainable by scientific method. What science
    cannot discover mankind cannot know".
  • Think about that statement.
  • Why is it illegitimate to make such a statement?
  • Here is the answer
  • The statement itself cannot be proved from
  • Therefore, if it is true we can't know that it is
  • In other words it refutes itself.

Challenges to Morality.2. Logical Positivism
  • First what is meant by Positivism?
  • Francis Bacon (17th C) and Comte (19th C)
  • We should not ask metaphysical questions re First
    Causes, etc
  • The original matter from which the universe is
    formed is inexplicable.
  • We will never find an explanation for its
  • We should assume that the ultimate matter of the
    universe is positive ie
  • Its origin and purpose are not susceptible to
    philosophy and reason so the universe must simply
    be accepted and scientifically examined as it is.

The mystery of existence and Positivism.
  • Metaphysical enquiries asking such questions as
    Why is there matter and energy? or What is the
    purpose of it all? are beyond us,
  • Therefore we should only think about what science
    can reveal by experiment..
  • If God exists why does He exist? Was He created?
  • Whether or not God exists we are face to face
    with the mysteryWhy does anything exist at all?

Positivism says Dont Even bother to ask. These
things are beyond us. Just accept things as they
are and let science get on with its job. However
can we really avoid these questions that science
cannot answer? Scientists and philosophers cant
help thinking about these things Stephen
HawkingWhy does the universe go to all the
bother of existing? JJC Smart (atheist
philosopher) Why should anything exist at all? -
it is for me a matter of the deepest awe.
  • The most beautiful and deepest experience a man
    can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is
    the underlying principle of religion as well as
    of all serious endeavour in art and in
    science.... He who never had this experience
    seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind.
  • The sense that behind anything that can be
    experienced there is a something that our mind
    cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity
    reaches us only indirectly and as feeble
    reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense
    I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at
    these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with
    my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of
    all that there is.
  • Albert Einstein (Speech to the German League of
    Human Rights (Berlin 1932).

Also in our lead up to Logical Positivism we
mention David Hume. (18th Century)
  • Only two forms of knowledge
  • Knowledge from Logic/Mathematics
  • Knowledge from Sense Experience eg scientific
  • Everything else meaningless.

Early 20th Century Vienna Circle and British
Atheist philosopher A.J. Ayer (author of the book
Language Truth and Logic). revived and developed
Humes views. Logical Positivism (a form of
atheism) was the result. It is based on its
Verification Principle which says that If we
cannot imagine an experiment to verify or falsify
a statement then that statement is meaningless.
  • Logical Positivism continued
  • From the Verification Principle it follows that
  • Statements about morality are not false they are
  • The statement Stealing is morally wrong has no
    objective meaning - it is just an expression of
    how I feel.
  • This leads to

Emotivism Moral propositions are really
expressions of one's own likes and dislikes. X
is right' only reveals something about the person
who utters the statement - the state of his
emotions - he approves of X. X is right is a
claim about the psychology of the speaker not
about the real moral value of X.
Logical Positivism continued
  • The jug is red', or The door squeaks or the
    pig is smelly' or the man is clever', - all
    these statements can be verified or falsified by
    experiment and therefore have meaning.
  • The painting is good' cannot be verified or
    falsified by experiment, neither can Stealing is
  • Therefore both are meaningless statements.

  • Problems with Logical Positivism.
  • Does this verification principle make sense?
  • If an insane person feels right about committing
    a murder does that mean that there was nothing
    wrong with it?
  • Or if someone committed a murder so that no one
    knew there had been a murder so that the only
    person to have any feeling about the murder was
    the murderer himself - does that mean that there
    was nothing wrong with the murder?

Logical Positivism concluded.
  • The main problem with Logical Positivism
  • It refutes itself.
  • The Verification Principle itself cannot be
    verified or falsified by scientific experiment.
  • Therefore if it is true it is meaningless - which
    is nonsense.
  • Thus almost all philosophers now recognise that
    Logical Positivism (which had a major influence
    on 20th C philosophy) cannot be right.
  • Even A. J. Ayer himself came to realise that.

  • Can the concepts of
  • Human Rights
  • and Equality
  • be the foundations upon which a just and moral
    society is built?
  • But first we consider the traditional view of the
    ultimate source of justice and morality and how
    it relates to a nations laws.

Traditional view of a nations source of its
sense of justice and the right ordering of
  • Goodness is the character of God shown, not
    primarily in a list of rules, but in His deeply
    personal dealings with us.
  • For a Christian the Bible is the account of this.
  • For a Christian this goodness is focussed in the
    Person of Christ in whom God comes face to face
    with us.

  • At the heart of that goodness is the self-giving
    love of God.
  • We are called to love as He loves us.
  • From this comes our duties of respect for justice
    and the dignity of our fellow human beings and
    all creation.
  • In our yet imperfect world God knows we still
    need laws so, He gives them to us.(E.g..10

The Source of Goodness - Old and New.
  • God - His goodness and laws.
  • Laws of the State as far as possible are in
    harmony with that goodness and Law of God
  • State legislation gives certain rights in certain
  • E.g. the right of way at a crossroads.
  • But such a right is not a fundamental human
  • The Concept of Human Rights replaces God.
  • As in a religion people are reluctant to
    challenge this new god.
  • Government legislation is subject to Human
    Rights legislation. (European Court of Justice
    in Luxembourg).
  • Where there is conflict between this Court and UK
    Government, Human Rights has the final say.

  • Background to the modern revival of the concept
    of Human Rights.
  • Some governments treat their citizens terribly
  • Dictatorships - fear of losing control
  • Imprisonment without trial, torture, killings,
    disappearances, genocide.
  • 1961 Amnesty International was founded to
    campaign for the release of prisoners of
  • I.e. prisoners who had committed no crime, nor
    advocated violence but were in prison for their
    political or religious beliefs.

  • it was not until the rise and fall of Nazi
    Germany that the idea of rights--human
    rights--came truly into its own.
  • The laws authorising the dispossession and
    extermination of Jews and other minorities, the
    laws permitting arbitrary police search and
    seizure, the laws condoning imprisonment,
    torture, and execution without public
    trial--these and similar obscenities brought home
    the realisation that certain actions are wrong,
    no matter what human beings are entitled to
    simple respect at least.
  • (Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)

  • Some milestones in the recent history of Human
  • The Charter of the United Nations (1945) begins
    by reaffirming a "faith in fundamental human
    rights, in the dignity and worth of the human
    person, in the equal rights of men and women and
    of nations large and small."
  • In 1950, the Council of Europe agreed to the
    European Convention for the Protection of Human
    Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This led to the
    creation of the European Commission of Human
    Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Later the European Court of Justice was set up.
    It has authority over national governments if it
    believes their actions or legislation contravenes
    Human Rights.
  • NB MSP students will not be examined on their
    knowledge of the history or detailed contents of
    these conventions, charters - etc. The above is
    for background information only. What matters for
    the exam is an understanding of the philosophical
    questions that arise from the concept of Rights

Narrow Broad Interpretations of Human Rights.(1)
  • Narrow Human Rights are relevant only to such
    things as imprisonment without trial, a fair
    trial, government sponsored torture, persecution
    on the grounds of beliefs etc.

Narrow Broad Interpretations of Human Rights.(2)
  • An example of a Broad Interpretation of Rights
    Christmas period 2000. Some Perthshire parents
    demanded their childrens right to privacy and
    successfully asked the Council to forbid the
    taking of photos during school nativity plays.
    Other parents who wanted the right to
    photograph a significant event in their childs
    life were disappointed.
  • Does the concept of human rights give any help in
    settling disputes such as this?
  • Does Human Rights mean human desires?
  • No, but people will try to say that their desires
    are their rights!
  • How will the courts decide?
  • This is one of the main problems of the concept.

Further back in history (in America)
  • Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of USA) said
    Americans are a "free people claiming their
    rights as derived from the laws of nature and not
    as the gift of their Chief Magistrate."
  • This gave poetic eloquence to the plain prose of
    the 17th century in the Declaration of
    Independence proclaimed by the 13 American
    Colonies on July 4, 1776 "We hold these truths
    to be self-evident, that all men are created
    equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
    with certain unalienable Rights, that among these
    are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
  • In the first quotation above rights derive from
    nature itself. (By the way what does that mean?)
  • The second quotation says that our rights derive
    from God.
  • Neither says rights derive from a government or
    nation state.

  • The idea of human rights as natural rights was
    not without its detractors.
  • Because they were conceived in essentially
    absolutist terms --"inalienable," "unalterable,"
    "eternal"--, natural rights were found
    increasingly to come into conflict with one
  • (what if my right to do something impinges on
    your rights?)
  • Also the doctrine of natural rights came under
    powerful philosophical attack.
  • For example, David Hume (18th C sceptical
    philosopher) said the concept belonged to
    metaphysics - ie could not be verified by science
    and therefore was invalid.
  • (Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)

  • Some of the most basic questions have yet to
    receive conclusive answers.
  • Whether human rights are to be validated by
    intuition, or custom, or a particular
    sociological theory.
  • whether they are to be understood as irrevocable
    or partially revocable
  • whether they are to be broad or limited in number
    and content
  • Issues such as these are matters of ongoing
  • Most assertions of human rights are qualified by
    the limitation that the rights of any particular
    individual or group are restricted as much as is
    necessary to secure the comparable rights of
    others. (Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica

Some Complications and difficulties
  • What is the difference between a desire and a
  • Is there a right to do as we wish with our bodies
    in private?
  • Does what I do in private affect society at large
    - now or in the future? Some theories of human
    society say it may do.
  • Abortion - whose right - mother's or the unborn?
  • When does the right to freedom of speech
  • breach the right of someone to be protected from
    what he regards as offensive?
  • propagate evil and harm society.
  • Does not a mere list of rights, trying to
    describe the dignity of a person in terms of
    needs/wants depersonalise him/her?

These dilemmas are faced in the following
articles from the Times and Sunday Times
  • Handout Fundamentalism and Human Rights.
  • Handout Cleaning up in court the flood of legal
    action set to engulf Britain.
  • Handout Human rights - by Cardinal Basil Hume

Criticism of the concept of Human Rights by
Lesslie Newbigin in his book Foolishness to the
Greeks especiallyThe Right to the pursuit of
  • But what is true happiness ?
  • If we cant ask the Question
  • What is the purpose of mans existence?
  • then happiness is whatever each person defines it
  • Without belief in heaven or hell the pursuit of
    happiness is carried out in the few short
    uncertain years before death.
  • Often leading to a hectic search for happiness
    leading to great anxiety

Criticism, (continued) of the concept of Human
Rights by Leslie Newbigin especiallyThe Right
to the pursuit of happiness.
  • If everyone claims the right to life, liberty
  • who is under obligation to honour this claim ?
  • Middle Ages - there were reciprocal rights
  • Rights duties went hand in hand and both were

Criticism, (continued) of the concept of Human
Rights by Leslie Newbigin especiallyThe Right
to the pursuit of happiness.
  • But quest for happiness is infinite (we are
    always wanting more from life)
  • who has the infinite duty to honour the infinite
  • The answer is perceived to be the nation state.
  • Demands on the state are without limit.
  • Nation state has taken the place of God as the
    source to which many look for happiness.

Criticism (continued) of the concept of Human
Rights by Leslie Newbigin especiallyThe Right
to the pursuit of happiness.
  • Should I claim my wants as rights? Or should
    it be my needs that are my rights?
  • My wants may be (and often are) irrational
  • I can (and often do) want things that would not
    in the end bring me lasting happiness.
  • My real needs - what I need to reach my true end
    - may be different from the wants I feel.

Criticism (continued) of the concept of Human
Rights by Leslie Newbigin especiallyThe Right
to the pursuit of happiness.
  • The political left usually desire to provide for
    our needs, whereas the political right want to
    allow us to make up our own minds and therefore
    be governed by our wants.
  • The argument of the political left assumes that
    need creates a right that has priority over the
    wants of those who wish to pursue personal
    happiness in the way they choose.

Criticism continued of the concept of Human
Rights by Leslie Newbigin especiallyThe Right
to the pursuit of happiness.
  • Difficulties immediately appear
  • Needs can be accorded priority over wants
    only if there is some socially accepted view of
    the goal of human existence.
  • in other words, a socially accepted doctrine of
    the nature and destiny of the human being.
  • Such a socially accepted doctrine is excluded by
    the dogma of pluralism that controls
    post-Enlightenment society.

Lesslie Newbigin on Equality
  • We are all equal in our basic need for survival
    this is the need we share with the animals.
  • But to be human means to need other things
    -respect, honour, love.
  • These needs, social rather than merely
    biological, call precisely for differentiation
    rather than for equality.
  • There are different kinds of respect, honour, and
    love we owe to teachers, colleagues, parents,
    friends, wife, husband, children.
  • It is this kind of differentiated respect,
    honour, and love that makes life human.
  • An undifferentiated acknowledgement of the basic
    biological needs of a human being does not.
  • And these things - respect, honour, and love -
    cannot be claimed as rights.

Is the word rights' the right word? If yes'
address the problems and answer them. If no'
provide another way of expressing the belief in
correct treatment of one-another.
  • Alternative way of expressing the belief in
    correct treatment of one-another
  • Duty. We have duties to one another
  • What God values and loves I must value and love.
  • Whereas each person demanding rights tends to
    separate us into rival isolated individuals each
    person having a duty to others unites us in

The previous question continued Is the word
rights' the right word? If yes' address the
problems and answer them. If no' provide
another way of expressing the belief in correct
treatment of one-another.
  • The concept of human rights has been useful in
    challenging cruel governments about their
    behaviour but can it really be the basis of
  • moral decision making?
  • Government policy making?

A Message from the Bible
  • For our sake God Himself surrendered His rights
    and entered our suffering and death so as to
    forgive us and lift us up to Him.
  • Christ did not count His equality with God
    something to hold on to but He surrendered it for
  • (An actual text is in the next slide)

The Text from the Bible
  • Phil 23-11 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or
    vain conceit, but in humility consider others
    better than yourselves. Each of you should look
    not only to your own interests, but also to the
    interests of others. Your attitude should be the
    same as that of Christ Jesus Who, being in very
    nature God, did not consider equality with God
    something to be grasped, but made himself
    nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness. And being found in
    appearance as a man, he humbled himself and
    became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name
  • Now to some quotations

John Witte Jnr is Director, Center for the
Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory
University (2000- )
  • The modern cultivation of human rights in the
    West began in earnest in the 1940's when both
    Christianity and the Enlightenment seemed
    incapable of delivering on their promises. In the
    middle of the twentieth century, there was no
    second coming of Christ promised by Christians,
    no heavenly city of reason promised by
    enlightened libertarians, no withering away of
    the state promised by enlightened socialists.
    Instead, there was world war, gulags, and the
    Holocaust - a vile and evil fascism and
    irrationalism to which Christianity and the
    Enlightenment seemed to have no cogent response
    or effective deterrent.
  • The modern human rights movement was thus born
    out of desperation in the aftermath of World War
    II. It was an attempt to find a world faith to
    fill a spiritual void. It was an attempt to
    harvest from the traditions of Christianity and
    the Enlightenment the rudimentary elements of a
    new faith and a new law that would unite a badly
    broken world order.
  • John Witte, Jr, The Spirit of the Laws, the Laws
    of the Spirit, in Stackhouse Browning (eds),
    God and Globalization, Vol.2

Oliver O'Donovan is Professor of Moral and
Pastoral Theology, Oxford
  • 'What effect does this have upon the conception
    of justice? It dissolves its unity and coherence
    by replacing it with a plurality of 'rights'. The
    language of subjective rights (i.e. rights which
    adhere to a particular subject) has, of course, a
    perfectly appropriate and necessary place within
    a discourse founded on law What is distinctive
    about the modern conception of rights, however,
    is that subjective rights are taken to be
    original, not derived. The fundamental reality is
    a plurality of competing, unreconciled rights,
    and the task of law is to harmonise them The
    right is a primitive endowment of power with
    which the subject first engages in society, not
    an enhancement which accrues to the subject from
    an ordered and politically formed society.'
  • Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of the Nations

The Judge was Jeremy Cooke at the Sept 2002
Oxford Conference on Human Rights.
  • Summary of a Christian Judges view
  • Our sense of morality should give rise to
    legislation enacted by governments. E.g. our
    sense that it is wrong to steal will give rise to
    laws forbidding stealing.
  • Laws also regulate how we should behave in
    certain contexts so as to preserve an ordered
    society. Such legislation will give certain
    people rights in certain contexts.
  • For example at a crossroads law gives some the
    right of way.
  • However this is not a fundamental human right
    which gives rise to a law. It is the result of a
    law for a particular situation.
  • Rights should occur in the context of the law of
    the land but not be considered as the source of
    morality itself.
  • However some European governments (eg UK) have
    reversed this and given the European Human Rights
    Convention preference over the legislation of

  • The world found nothing sacred in the abstract
    nakedness of being human. And in view of
    objective political conditions, it is hard to say
    how the concepts of man upon which human rights
    are based - that he is created in the image of
    God (in the American formula), or that he is the
    representative of mankind, or that he harbours
    within himself the sacred demands of natural law
    (in the French formula) - could have helped to
    find a solution to the problem. The survivors of
    the extermination camps . could see that the
    abstract nakedness of being nothing but human was
    their greatest danger.
  • Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • Human dignity is the foundation for nurturing and
    protecting human rights. It is rooted in the
    vision of the 'fullness of life' promised in the
    incarnation of Jesus Christ and his
    identification with all humankind. We must be
    reminded that human dignity is something persons
    have, not something they must earn or be granted.
    Dignity is not a quality bestowed on others by
    the family, by society, or by a government.
    Rather, dignity is a reality as a consequence of
    God's good creation and never-ending love. This
    reality requires acknowledgement and respect.
  • Robert A. Evans, Human Rights in a Global Context

  • Contemporary moral experience . has a
    paradoxical character. For each of us is taught
    to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral
    agent but each of us also becomes engaged by
    manipulative relationships with others. Seeking
    to protect the autonomy that we have learned to
    prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated
    by others ... we find no way open to us to do so
    except by directing towards others those very
    manipulative modes of relationship which each of
    us aspires to resist in our own case. The
    incoherence of our attitudes arises from the
    incoherent conceptual scheme which we have
    inherited. Once we have understood this, it is
    possible to understand also the key place that
    the concept of rights has in the distinctively
    modern moral schemethe culture of bureaucratic
    individualism results in ... political debates
    being between individualism which makes its
    claims in terms of rights and forms of
    bureaucratic organisation which make their claims
    in terms of utility. But if the concept of rights
    and that of utility are a matching pair of
    incommensurable fictions, it will be the case
    that the moral idiom employed can at best provide
    a semblance of rationality for the modern
    political process, but not its reality. The mock
    rationality of the debate conceals the
    arbitrariness of the will and power at work in
    its resolution. (Alister MacIntyre, After Virtue)

  • What would it mean to come to a genuine, unforced
    international consensus on human rights? I
    suppose it would be something like what Rawls
    describes in his Political Liberalism as an
    'overlapping consensus'. That is, different
    groups, countries, religious communities,
    civilizations, while holding incompatible
    fundamental views on theology, metaphysics, human
    nature, etc., would come to an agreement on
    certain norms that ought to govern human
    behaviour. Each would have its own way of
    justifying this from out of its profound
    background conception. We would agree on the
    norms, while disagreeing on why they were the
    right norms. And we would be content to live in
    this consensus, undisturbed by the differences of
    profound underlying belief.
  • Is this kind of consensus possible? Perhaps
    because of my optimistic nature, I believe that
    it is. But we have to confess at the outset that
    it is not entirely clear around what the
    consensus would form, and we are only beginning
    to discern the obstacles we would have to
    overcome on the way there.
  • Charles Taylor, Conditions of an Unforced
    Consensus on Human Rights

  • Handout Human Rights and Justice - Roger Scruton.

Rights and Equality - a Christian alternative
  • Sometimes we are called to surrender our rights
    and make sacrifices in order that we might help
  • The Biblical injunction to me is not to claim
    equality but to count others as deserving of
    greater honour.
  • However the kind of honour and love we give and
    receive is different for different people.

Rights and Equality - a Christian alternative -
  • A good society is one where we honour one another
    in ways appropriate to our relationships of
  • I give a different love and a different honour to
    different persons depending on whether the person
    is my parent, child, grandparent, teacher, pupil,
    colleague, employer, employee, spouse, or friend.
  • In these relationships we find our true human
    destiny and happiness.