Is there a real basis from which to extend rights to every individual?
Do we have evidence that there is moral truth, that our rights are real and not made up, that our indignation is not delusion? In part 1 of this series, we saw that our rights and liberties are either completely made up (anti-realism) or they are discovered moral truth (moral realism). Here in part 2 we will explore the evidence for their being discovered, for moral realism, the beginning of a basis from which to make the case for protecting the rights of every individual on the globe.
The first clue that rights are real, that moral truth is real, is our intuitive hunger for true meaning. When someone infringes on our rights, or otherwise oversteps our moral boundaries, we feel moral indignation, and we don’t feel like we just made up the reason for that indignation—we feel truly justified. Someone who thinks we make up our rights (anti-realist) might say, “The government protects rights, the courts acknowledge rights, so it is neither here nor there if rights are made up or discovered.” This is not true of all governments and their courts, it was not that long ago that our own system went through the Civil Rights Movement, and the issue of rights in our changing society is still as hot as ever. It does matter whether rights are made up or discovered, because not a single government has it all figured out. However, there is evidence in the ethical creeds of history that all of mankind senses the same moral truth, leading us to our second clue.
The second clue that rights and moral truth are real, is that different cultures of individuals, throughout history, agree on the general reasons for indignation, and the reasons to praise behavior. See the appendix of C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man” where he places many similar creeds from different civilizations. Also see the (not entirely accurate) Wikipedia article on the Golden Rule, which “has its roots in a wide range of world cultures.” “The so-called Golden Rule is found in negative form in rabbinic Judaism and also in Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It occurred in various forms in Greek and Roman ethical teaching. Jesus stated it in positive form,” (Zondervan NASB Study Bible, 1999). This striking resemblance of morality between cultures is due to our common humanity, our sharing the moral sense of love, the hunger for true meaning.
Naturalists argue that there does not need to be a supernatural basis for any moral truth, that there is a natural reason we all have similar morals: we evolved them. However, this argument, though claiming to be a realist argument, means that there is no moral truth (nihilism), because truth never changes—it does not evolve (closer to anti-realism). In atheist Richard Dawkins’ words, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is,” (133, Out of Eden). With survival-of-the-fittest in mind, google Hume’s is-to-ought fallacy. In short, a study of nature cannot tell us how nature ‘ought’ to be, it can only tell us how nature ‘is’.
However, moral truth is not as removed from nature as Dawkins believes. We would not have evolved the ability to reason mathematically if there were no mathematical truth, and we would not have evolved instinctive indignation if there were no true meaning to satisfy that hunger for love which nature cannot satisfy. This is the sort of hunger Diotima speaks about in Plato’s Symposium (as Socrates tells it) when she refers to a type of love we know intuitively, as being “the love of having the good for oneself always,” a hunger that is “common to all.” If we accept that as evidence that moral truth, including rights, is discovered—how do we distinguish man-made morality from true morality, and how can we use that moral truth to make the case for protecting the rights of every individual on the globe? We will explore that question in part 3.
(To be continued…)
“Ironically, both believers and unbelievers have confessed a need for God. Augustine’s famous statement summarizes the believer’s need for God: ‘The heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee, O God!’ As for unbelievers, Nietzsche once confessed of his atheistic life, ‘My life now consists in the wish that it might be otherwise than I comprehend, and that somebody might make my ‘truths’ appear incredible to me.’ The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said in his auto-biography, ‘I needed God…I reached out for religion, I longed for it, it was the remedy.’ Walter Kaufman admits that ‘religion is rooted in man’s aspiration to transcend himself. … Whether he worships idols or strives to perfect himself, man is the God-intoxicated ape.'” Geisler & Feinberg, Intro. to Philo. / A Christian Perspective.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Man-made, or discovered?