Foundations for Human Rights: philosophical, legal, political, or superfluous?

This afternoon I moderated a panel for Emory philosophy’s colloquium series. The panel’s theme was this:  Foundations for Human Rights: philosophical, legal, political, or superfluous?

Our fabulous panelists:

The panelists each gave a short presentation and then there was a lively Q & A.

No one on the panel argued for any kind of metaphysical foundation for human rights and all pointed to the importance of a human rights culture and discourse. Andrew Altman’s main point was that we don’t need a logical proof for the existence of human rights; we can simply refer to the stories, sentiments, and reasons we share with each other for why a human rights culture makes the world less horrible than it might otherwise be. Michael Perry pointed to the major premise of the UN ‘s declaration of human rights that “all human beings … should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” as the compelling (but not metaphysical) foundation for human rights, and only foundational because actual human beings are largely motivated by this imperative. Karin Ryan of the Carter Center spoke about the actual communities that have used the language of human rights to change their communities. Her many examples buttressed my own thinking about the performative character of human rights and other political claims — e.g., how human rights claims are made in situations when such rights are being denied but how the claims themselves actually instantiate the rights. For a woman to speak out publicly in a culture that says she can’t — and when she does so because a human rights discourse says she can — actually instantiates her right to speak in the face of those who say she can’t.

The audience of, primarily, philosophy professors and graduate students seemed unsatisfied by any of this, and I found this a bit perplexing. The questions seemed to be looking for logical loopholes.  Actually, I can’t even really figure out what the questioners were questioning.  Maybe some could clarify in comments here.

One interesting question noted that the panelists all seemed to be suggesting that “human rights” were created in 1945.  That is, human rights are a cultural construct and they were actually constructed with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.  This questioner wondered then what about reparation claims for wrongs conducted prior to 1945.  Well, that’s an interesting question!  My reply to that would be that it is not rights that were created in 1945 but a way of talking about rights that was created.  So we can be agnostic about the existence of such rights pre- and post 1945.

Anyway, this was  a really interesting session and another example of why I love to do this work.

Neoliberalism, the Street, and the Forum

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

That’s the title of the talk I’m giving Wednesday February 26 at Spelman College, Atlanta, GA, 3-5 p.m., Cosby Reading Room, 2d floor.

This is a lecture for SOPHIA, the Atlanta-based political theory colloquium.  More info here: http://sophiaatl.org/

 

Spelman talk moved to Feb. 26

February 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Because of the looming storm, my SOPHIA talk is postponed until February 26.  More details to come.

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Giving talk at Spelman Feb. 12, 2014 on Social Movements and Deliberative Publics

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

This Wednesday, February 12 at 3 p.m., I’m giving a talk at Spelman College as part of the SOPHIA (Series on Political Philosophy in Atlanta) talks.  

“Social Movements and Deliberative Publics: Countering Neoliberalism’s Anti-Politics”

Reconceptualizing the relationship between the social (e.g. new social movements) and the political (namely, deliberative publics) provides a way to counter neoliberalism’s anti-politics. I start this paper by explaining the problem of political elites deferring to market mechanisms rather than engaging in political thinking, deliberating, and judging other ways to address problems. Then I describe the present tension between (i) new social movements that also seem to shun politics (i.e., the politics of deliberative choice) in favor of protests and demands and (ii) deliberative publics, from informal citizen deliberations to formal legislative ones. I argue, following Iris Marion Young, that this tension between “the activist” and “the deliberative democrat” is not oppositional but rather is productive. This is best understood by conceptualizing the various moments in a larger political process, which includes the steps of naming and framing public issues as well as deliberation and choice.  This brings to light the need for more formal entry points for citizen public deliberation into the political process as well as the importance that social movements play in challenging the status quo and showing what is being marginalized and needs to be addressed. Finally, I show how the challenge is especially pressing as neoliberalism goes global.

 

Why Another Blog?

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Several years ago I started the blog GonePublic: Philosophy, Politics, and Public Life.  This has been a great venue to bring my philosophical work to bear on the issues of the day, and vice versa.  I have started this website to supplement that one and to give those interested some more information about my own work.  So, while GonePublic looks outward, this site will give the interested reader more information about my own work and research.

In the days and weeks to come, I look forward to putting lots more content on this site.

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