Secular Worldviews, Religious Worldviews, and the Morality of Human Rights [REVISED]

THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO THEISM, Charles Taliaferro, Steven Goetz & Victoria S. Harrison, eds., Routledge, Forthcoming

Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-102

San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 10-027

22 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2020

Date Written: May 26, 2010

Abstract

The morality of human rights - by which I mean the foundational, connected moral claims articulated in the International Bill of Human Rights - coheres well with some religious worldviews. For example, and as philosopher Charles Taylor has explained, the “affirmation of universal human rights [that characterizes] modern liberal political culture [represents an] authentic development[] of the gospel . . .” But does the morality of human rights also cohere, well or otherwise, with any secular worldview: any worldview that denies or is agnostic about the existence of a “transcendent” reality, as distinct from the reality that is the object of natural-scientific inquiry? Put another way: Are secular worldviews and the morality of human rights like oil and water?

This is an essay in human rights theory - a brief essay, given its intended venue; see below. In it, I explicate the morality of human rights and then address the question articulated in the preceding paragraph. Along the way, I reference recent work in human rights theory by religious human-rights theorist Nicholas Wolterstorff (Justice: Rights and Wrongs) and secular human-rights theorist James Griffin (On Human Rights).

Note: In this essay - a later version of which will be my contribution to The Routledge Companion to Theism, edited by Charles Taliaferro, Steven Goetz & Victoria S. Harrison - I build on an argument I began in The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford, 1998) and continued, in revised form, in Toward a Theory of Human Rights (Cambridge, 2007). For a recent essay on the problématique to which my argument is a response - an essay that discusses my argument - see Daniel Malachuk, Human Rights and a Post-Secular Religion of Humanity, Journal of Human Rights 9.2 (June 2010). Another recent, quite relevant discussion: John Dobard, The Inheritance of Excellence: On the Uses, Justification, and Problem of Human Dignity, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1580548.

Suggested Citation

Perry, Michael John, Secular Worldviews, Religious Worldviews, and the Morality of Human Rights [REVISED] (May 26, 2010). THE ROUTLEDGE COMPANION TO THEISM, Charles Taliaferro, Steven Goetz & Victoria S. Harrison, eds., Routledge, Forthcoming, Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-102, San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 10-027, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1615690

Michael John Perry (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

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