Free Essay: History and Theory of Human Rights
Human rights are defined as the incontrovertible fundamental rights that every human being is entitled to. The rights are applied universally and to all humans existing in any part of the world. The rights apply to all equally such that they can either prevail in the form of natural or legal rights. The human rights concept has formed the basis of public policies across the globe, which are often implemented in international law, regional institutions, non-governmental organizations, and public states. This concept is aimed at establishing the fundamental elements that should control each individual towards living a good life. It mainly outlines both the positive and negative elements that are necessary for making sure that human beings have the ability to live minimal good lives. This essay will address the History and Theory of Human Rights.
This aspiration has been perpetuated by a variety of declarations and judicial conventions, which were initially established through the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later through the 1954 European Convention on Human Rights as well as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Economic Rights. While the three documents give a basis for moral doctrine that is often considered to have the capability of equipping the contemporary geo-political order with an overall bill of rights that can be used across the globe, the principle of human rights is not aimed at offering a fully comprehensive doctrine of morality.
This, therefore, gives an explanation as to why the doctrine cannot provide a complete account of morality but targets the development of a basis for creating the scope, content, and fundamental moral norms. The doctrine particularly targets securing fundamental conditions that would ensure that humans lead comfortable lives, which is often realized through regional, national and international public authorities. It also carries with it, the aspiration of offering the modern society a common framework on which the basic social, political, and economic conditions that are ideal for perpetuating minimal comfortable lives for all humans are founded.
The History and Theory of Human Rights
Despite the significant roles gained by human rights and the courts and tribunals that perpetuate them in the definition of modern moral and legal institutions, a growing relevance of human rights has escalated a certain level of interest among scholars in the process of trying to understand its philosophical foundation. This development has resulted from the dire need of understanding the moral principles of the political institution that are different from the general behavior of modern society.
Scholars in today’s society have on many occasions not been satisfied with the simplistic idea about what is wrong or right based on the interpretations of a particular society. This has therefore triggered the quest for understanding the development of moral principles that govern societies and their rulers. The oldest precursor that is related to the development of human rights is the concept of ‘natural rights’ which states that there are some behaviors that are considered to either be right or wrong just because they were ordained to be so by God. This explains why a natural right could be guaranteed just because it stems from divine command.
The theory gave the explanation that God was the ultimate author of the restrictions around which the politics of humans should revolve. While claims outlined that the doctrine of natural rights rendered to difficulties in creating a reliable academic discipline, various political philosophers like Aristotle, John Locke, George Stuart Mill, and Thomas Hobbes came in to play so as to describe the doctrine of human nature in a manner that did not showcase God as having taken part. This was to provide a long-term account of various political thoughts because it was established on a foundation that was purely religious.
Immanuel Kant is, on the other hand, considered to be the father of the doctrine of human rights since he was the first philosopher to view human nature as an end to itself. He was a famous political philosopher who many remember for the significant contribution that he made to contemporary philosophy. His philosophy explains the human nature concept in the context of doctrines that undertake an analysis of the world and its laws, and also the concept of reasoning as the foundation of morality. The Critique of Pure Reason, which outlines his philosophical work, gives the basis for the doctrines of human rights since it harmonizes reason and experience so as to understand human nature, which assists in moving beyond the traditional philosophy, which analyzed human nature in baseless theories.
The roots of the principle of human rights can be traced back to the Kantian categorical imperative, which unearths the reasons behind human actions based on moral obligations that target the protection of human nature, which covers a special section of the entire creation. Kant argues that even though human beings are the ultimate ‘citizens of creation,’ their desires for action against one another should be controlled by morality since this provides the basis upon which all actions and obligations are founded.
Despite the fact that this concept describes diverse propositions that justify the need for undertaking or not to pursue certain actions, he argued that such assertions should always be controlled by different ends that are bound to result from such actions. This implies that the overall motivation that governs human actions should be based on the dire need for perpetuating the well-being of human nature, which is a major characteristic of human rights.
He, therefore, presented the concept of the Categorical Imperative as an absolute result. In line with this, Kant explained that the overall inspiration for taking or avoiding certain actions against human beings should be controlled by the potential results that are bound to come from those actions. The principle in this regard is that the potential positive results are aimed at promoting the rights of individuals should motivate humans to take certain actions, while the negative ones with the potential of violating the rights of individuals should discourage some actions.
As Kant was making this analysis as a way of showing his significant dissatisfaction with the various philosophical disciplines that explained the morality concept on the basis of ‘pure reason,’ he helps us in understanding the reason behind the failure of these doctrines in explaining the concept of universal human rights. Kant argues that utilitarian philosophers pointed out that murder is not acceptable since it is in violation of the ultimate well-being of the parties involved. However, he explained that arguments like that are unable to provide a structure for founding moral judgment because the doctrine is overly subjective and is only aimed at maximizing positive results for those involved.
Going by his philosophical arguments, individual humans often have desires of realizing certain ends, and these can only be influenced by particular contingent motivations. However, the moral law needs to consider humanity as the ultimate end in order to make sure that their rights are applied as the guiding principles for making choices that people might have in doing certain things towards the realization of these ends, which is consistent with the overall freedom for all humanity.
On the other hand, the modern concept of human rights which is based on the doctrine of universality states that human actions should be controlled by the need for promoting universal freedom for all humans who are equal by nature irrespective of color, race, ethnicity, and nationality. This means that placing the conduct of an individual under control by taking positive actions that have the potential of perpetuating the well being of a fellow human being while avoiding those actions that can negatively impact them can be translated into the universal protection of the overall freedom for all humans across the globe.
The argument by Kant about human rights is equally formulated from the universality doctrine, which was a key component of his Categorical Imperative concept. This concept states that human actions towards their fellow humans should be based on particular maxims that are aimed at changing into universal law. Kant gave an explanation through this doctrine that human actions should be based on a universal law upon which the actions of other members of the society are founded. While this can potentially perpetuate the overall good of universal human life, he pointed out that a maxim does not contribute to this requirement if gives contradictory results when not universalized. This implies the fact that an action can be said to be morally acceptable in society if it has positive results that would benefit the entire society and not just the person who is taking the action.
Kant argued that morality should describe the objective instead of the subjective law of reason, which requires rational actions that would be acceptable in the wider society. His idea is therefore reflected in the contemporary concept of human rights, which surpasses the mere interpretation of what is right or wrong based on a personal perception but describes the actions that are socially acceptable according to what is stated by the law, which is aimed at protecting individual rights in society. He thus applies the term public law in defining the maxim that should control relationships prevailing between individuals in the wider society and state, which is the key catalyst of perpetuating the law. He also applies the term ‘private law’ to describe the maxim that should govern relationships between citizens in any given state, hence, giving a structure for measuring the morality of individuals.
His case also presents the morality doctrine within which he argues that what is good and morally acceptable does not originate from outside the human subject but what an autonomous person can freely give for their personal satisfaction. He points out that humans should treat themselves and others with dignity, which should be cultivated by the concept of goodwill instead of looking at themselves and others as a way of achieving certain goals. Therefore, his case portrays a rational framework for people to reflect upon their actions, determine whether they are bound to enhance their lives, the basic features of universal rights for human society, or whether they can potentially suppress the achievement of a good life. However, this probability is in violation of the potential achievement of universal human rights for mere reasons of perpetuating some personalized results.
Morality is the foundation on which Kant created the principle of freedom and autonomy, which is another concept that he used in explaining the doctrine of human rights. Kant used in principle in giving humans the view of self-conscious individuals that are often controlled by the principle of freedom of choice such that the ground upon which they come up with decisions to pursue certain actions are within themselves. This doctrine outlined that individual humans have the right of doing whatever they please provided that their decision to do or avoid engaging in what they like is often inspired by their ability in influencing the overall cause power without being pushed to or not make a particular move. This, therefore, means that people are able to exercise their respective rights in pursuing or failing to take action based on the ultimate impact that those actions are bound to cause on human life but not as a result of the ultimate subjective results.
Kant argued that the doctrine of free will without a causal structure upon which the actions of humans may be founded may not be comprehensible, thus, the desire to have some laws governing the free will doctrine. Even though Kant did not give an example of free will in his effort towards explaining the doctrine of freedom of choice, he was not in support of the determinism concept, which many scholars had relied upon in explaining an ultimate causal chain that was applied in explaining the actions of humans. In this case, Kant raised the argument that an action cannot be considered to cause certain results because another action that is closely linked to the first one contributes to these results.
In the same context, he also explained that determinism cannot comprehensively explain free will because this concept is often not known since individuals may not even be aware of their own freedom while at the same time; they cannot also use their failures for testing any proof of having freedom or the lack of it. While the entire world may never show the type of free will that should be prevalent as an end to itself, the only type of freedom that can prevail is that which tries to be instilled by the natural law.
Despite the perception of human beings as free, the freedom that transcends acts as the structure for defining moral responsibility. This describes the fact that human beings opt to take pursue certain actions as a means of exercising their own freedom, which contributes to individual human rights. While the need for promoting the overall freedom of an individual within the society may be translated into promoting universal freedom of individuals within the society, humans freely make choices for undertaking certain actions so as to exercise the freedom of their fellow humans, which results in the promotion of universal human rights.
Kant also inspected the human rights concept within the political circles, which he pointed out as the only legitimate authority from which natural human freedom is obtained, and other rights can also be acquired from this freedom. Based on this argument, it is obvious that Kant considered the processes of establishment, development, and execution of human rights as purely reliant on the state and also how the authority within this state operates. In this case, Kant came up with the fact that a state is able to achieve political stability if fundamental human rights are in place and exercised by the state. He was concerned that the righteous laws that emancipate fundamental rights are often founded on important basic principles of liberty, equality, and independence of every person within any particular society.
An interesting phenomenon that can be drawn from this case is that the fundamental principles on which human rights are founded are not provided by the state. However, they are instrumental in the approval of a state by its citizens. With regards to this, Kant raised the argument that the fundamental principles are not only critical in the establishment of righteous laws but equally important in the promotion of proper functioning of the state. When this gives the explanation that a state cannot properly operate if the people therein have turned it down, it also indicates that the fundamental human rights, which are ideal for productive co-existence between the citizens and the state, cannot be achieved.
Kant, therefore, presented the concept of the liberty of individuals as a basic principle from which the righteous laws that are important in the exercise of individual rights are obtained. Kant argues that the liberty of individuals is important since it places a restriction on the state from dictating upon the lives of its people. His case outlined the fact that the liberty of individuals can only be achieved when there is a patriotic government since it can result into the creation of an opportunity for the rights of individuals, which are often considered as a section of the overall scope of the government.
He also showcased the equality of individual members of the state as another important principle within which fundamental human rights are founded. He explained that the state should be guided in promoting equality among individual members of any particular society since it creates a common basis through which human rights are equally exercised. However, Kant did not include the ruler of the state in this equality since his jurisdiction was presented as the basis within which, the equality of persons which tend to be exercised through the law is fulfilled.
His case stated that every person in society should have equal rights so as to make sure that righteous laws, that offer the basis for the promotion of fundamental human rights, are evaluated and exercised to all humans similarly. He also presented the principle of independence as another context within which human rights are often exercised since it gives individuals in society, the opportunity of acting independently if certain human rights are to be accomplished.
Kant argued that if a person cannot act in independence, without being controlled by the state, human rights would be of no use. It is obvious that the lack of freedom due to the intervention of the ruler would open room for dictatorship by the state. This is an apposition whereby the state would be the one to make decisions on behalf of individuals in the society, which would be a violation of their ability to exercise their rights.
The human rights doctrine is an important concept in any given society considering that it enables us to understand the framework for promoting a relatively good life for all humans. While scholars could not come up with a reliable philosophical foundation for explaining the growing significance of human rights as well as the courts and tribunals where the concept is exercised, they presented Immanuel Kant’s case in the analysis of the doctrine since he is considered to be the only scholar who analyzed human life as an end to itself. His case was founded on the Categorical Imperative concept, which he referred to in explaining how different motivations can impact human actions based on whether they would result in the overall good life of humans within the society.
His case also evaluated the universality concept, which described the fact that human actions can only be morally upright if they can potentially translate into natural law that can promote human rights. Morality, liberty, equality, and independence were equally important concepts that were applied by Kant in explaining the origin and development of human rights.
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