Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Astronomy Pic o' the Day is 15 years old

And celebrates with a picture that is not what it seems: Click to enlarge, then grab and scroll around. You'll see.

John Searle on universal positive rights.

I’ve posted about this distinction before, and won’t needlessly reproduce that discussion again. But here it is: Negative Rights, Positive Rights, and Reasonable Demand

I found that Searle has a similar discussion of negative and positive rights in the last chapter of his latest book Making the Social World, The Structure of Human Civilization.

I cannot do his entire discussion justice, but point out that he asks us to take very seriously the conceptual architecture of rights. For each right a person has, there is a corresponding obligation that others have toward him. Searle simply asks us to take that seriously, and ask ourselves for any supposed positive right, whether one can seriously maintain that each and every person has the corresponding obligation as regards every other person. (Keep in mind here, that a positive right, a right of recipience, requires or obliges you supply something, as opposed to a negative right, that merely obliges one to refrain from doing certain things.)

Searle finds that one cannot seriously answer 'yes' with the purported 'positive' rights, but can seriously do so with the 'negative' rights. He focuses on a standard statement of positive rights, one from among several that the U.N. cooked up in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is expressive of sentiments famously critiqued by Jeane Kirkpatrick, in a closely similar context many years ago:

In our times, "rights" proliferate at the rhetorical level, with extraordinary speed. To the rights to life, liberty, and security of person have been added the rights to nationality, to privacy, to equal rights in marriage, to education, to culture, to the full development of personality, to self-determination, to self-government, to adequate standards of living.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights claims as a universal every political, economic, social right yet conceived.

..Such declarations of human "rights" take on the character of "a letter to Santa Claus"-as Orwin and Prangle noted. They can multiply indefinitely because "no clear standard informs them, and no great reflection produced them. " For every goal toward which human beings have worked, there is in our time a "right." Neither nature, experience, nor probability informs these lists of "entitlements," which are subject to no constraints except those of the mind and appetite of their authors. The fact that such "entitlements" may be without possibility of realization does not mean they are without consequences.

Searle's critique is definitely in the same vein. He has us seriously consider Article 25, which states, among it's two parts:

•(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Searle's basic criticism:

"One might agree that it would be a good idea for everyone to have adequate housing, standard of living, and education. But it is another thing to say that you and I and everybody else are under an obligation to provide all of these things for all other people. I believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a profoundly irresponsible document because its authors did not reflect on the logical connection between universal rights and universal obligations, and they mistook socially desirable policies for basic and universal human rights."