Recently while listening to a popular radio station, I heard a statement from a protester being interviewed to the effect "I have the right to bear arms and it would be unthinkable to refuse me that right, so why am I being refused the right to abort a child".
As much as I have never heard this particular statement before, the sentiment is not novel. In fact it has been the topic or basis of much discussion. Another topic that is at the centre of heated debate is gay rights.
Rights mind you should be an important topic, because of the inescapable and evident reality ever before us: man's inhumanity to man. That being said, it is also important to flesh out & define rights because on the other hand as one philosopher R.B Frey puts it "there is a tendency today to clothe virtually all moral and social issues in the language of rights, in order to be able to demand one's due".
In order to not have an irrational and impractical solution, I find the reconciling factor to be answering the fundamental question, "On what basis can I claim anything to be my right", in other words, what am I allowed to do and say without hindrance? Of equal importance is the question "who gives me the right to do and say? Essentially, how can I justify my right to do & say?
Before I speak to the veracity of the statement mentioned in the opening paragraph, I want to look on an often overlooked aspect of our reality and decision making. I have found that the discussion of rights and the freedom to exercise them, is often discussed solely on the basis of allowance (the sense of letting me do what I want), but the often overlooked part is examined in C.S Lewis's essay Evil & God. In it he addresses the fundamental danger of Dualism the belief that good and evil or God and the devil are independent but also equal forces in the world.
He points to the fact that if we follow the belief that both bad and good are more or less equal, then "bad men can love badness in the same way good men love good". Basically we have not only lost the ability to forgive, but also to condemn. So it is reasonable to talk about what we are allowed to do, but of great importance as well is to know what we are not allowed to do.
We would agree for the most part that not all behaviours should be given freedom of expression. However, we certainly don't seem to want to personalise it. For example, what if a rapist should argue along the lines of the person interviewed? Should his behaviour be restricted? If so, on what basis should it be restricted? It becomes one of two things.
We either espouse one thing but live another which is the typical case with relativism, or we live exactly what we believe. Now imagine a world where the latter was possible without restraint? As Edmund Burke so clearly and appropriately puts it, "what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice and madness, without tuition or restraint".
So restraint is necessary but for there to be restraint, there must be: not only an established moral framework, but one that is able to adequately answer the question of "who or what gives me the right". I believe that a proper human rights framework pivots on this reality, as we seek not only to allow expression, but to exercise disvalue and restraint where behavioural expression is deemed unfavourable.
Restraining someone's behaviour cannot be done without answering the fundamental question; who or what gave me the right to do so.
In my next article we will survey, and analyse some attempts at constructing a justifiable Human Rights framework, and in Part 3 we will seek to define and state a Human Rights Framework that can be justified.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Inter School's Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci
Paul Lewis' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/paul-lewis.html