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Posts Tagged ‘human rights.’

Humanity and the Refugee

September 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Recently published in Social Philosophy Today, my paper, “Humanity and the Refugee: Another Stab at Universal Human Rights,” takes up the questions of (1) how the refugee crisis exhibits the fault lines in what might otherwise seem to be a robust human rights regime and (2) what kinds of ways of seeing and thinking might better attune us to solving these problems. There is surprising agreement internationally on the content of human rights, although there is a huge gulf between international agreements on human rights and the protection of those most vital. The subtitle of the paper, “another stab at universal rights,” has a double entendre: in the midst of a crisis that is stabbing international agreements on human rights to its core, I will take a stab at using the crisis situation to point a way forward toward a cosmopolitan social imaginary that uses human imagination, not just as an ability to represent in one’s mind what one has seen elsewhere, but also as an ability to imagine something radically new. This social imaginary points to the necessity of according everyone, refugees included, as having a right to politics and thus a hand in shaping their own world, including their new, host communities.

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.