Tuesday, August 18, 2015
An Essay on Human Rights
This is an essay I wrote for admission to a Masonic lodge.
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, has 30 articles. The Declaration of Independence famous statement that “all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has been the sacred statement of human rights for Americans since 1776. The rallying cry of the French Revolution was “Liberte`, Egalite`, Fraternite`” or “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.” Exactly what Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness or Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood mean has been the subject of debate ever since 1776. Do rights mean that one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should eclipse other’s pursuits? What is exactly the amount of life, liberty, happiness and equality that is sufficient for humanity? This debate is an important one to have and is one that could never be fully resolved as new situations arise and as knowledge of the human condition improves.
Definitions of what human are can be boiled down to basic principles just as Jesus states that all the laws of Moses can be boiled down to two phrases: “Love God with your whole heart, whole mind and whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” For me the question of human rights boils down to a question of justice. Like human rights, definitions of justice vary from topic to topic. An early definition of justice is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in The Republic which was his vision of the ideal state. He stated that justice is the harmony between the needs and abilities of individuals and the needs of the state.
We are all created equal but we are not all created alike. There are basic human rights that everyone needs such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, access to health care, education, and information with which to make informed decisions about how to fulfill one’s own rights and the rights of others.
There also things that certain individuals need to correct for past injustices such as those which were done deliberately to other individuals such as through racism, sexism or almost any other -ism or those that occur through a mishap of nature such as a natural disaster or through a genetically inherited disease or those that occur through some combination of nature and deliberate actions by other humans. Correcting these injustices is difficult as people may disagree on what the appropriate corrective measures are. The debate about appropriate corrective measures should continue as no one individual has access to all of the necessary information that is needed to provide these measures. This debate should proceed with respect to others with the goal of finding the truth that allows for the appropriate corrective actions to take place.