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Is all morality about human rights?

Is the whole of morality about human rights, or human rights the whole of morality? Are there other types of moral concern than human rights concerns? One can argue that morality is a human construct as we are the only species (at present) able to recognize and live by its existence. Thus, morality can only apply to human rights because we are the only species able to even enter into conversation with it in the first place.

With that in mind, do all moral considerations necessarily only relate back to the protection of these rights; so that concerns for animals or the environment are relevant only as moral concerns in terms of how they can directly/or indirectly affect human rights? Or is morality a universal concept that extends far beyond the remit of Human Rights and if so how can one justify such a position?

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    Nov 19 2012: it should be about respecting and taking care of life in general, animals, humans, the environment
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    Nov 17 2012: /
    Hi Jennifer

    I think the definition of morality in practical everyday words is USUALLY about human rights and usually holding human rights as the most important consideration. Our legal systems and political machines function this way.

    But we have observed animals risking self safety for another, most notably mothers.

    Morality as a universal concept can be justified in terms of empathy. Empathy is recognized as a positive value, a good, and it can be applied by asking the right questions when there is no legal precedent. In questions of cruelty to animals, for example, the question is not whether the animals understand fair treatment but rather do they feel pain. We can make universal application as we reflect on the element within ourselves that experiences the rightness or wrongness of an action.

    I have known vegetarians who made a moral decision not to ever cause the death of an animal, and that morality might seem extreme to some, but we are faced with a similar perspective when we think about how future generations will suffer due to our carelessness.

    My wish is that morality does eventually become a generally accepted universal concept based on a growing sense of human potential and empathic potential. This is like a growing circle that should expand to encompass our blue marble.
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    Nov 13 2012: Morality and ethics are born of a fundamentally common need to relate to the other members of the group or tribe in a way that promotes a harmony in support of the needs of the tribe as a whole because of the realization that we are stronger and better able to survive and breed as a group than as an bunch of individuals separately. Morality is about the integrity of the tribe, not the rights of an individual.
  • Nov 12 2012: Ethics and morality are never absolute nor at they universal. A case can be made for that point by looking at certain historical events in different countries that follow similar processes and result in similar, albeit not comparatively as extreme, consequences. As a comparison, the Jewish people of Europe and the Japanese-Canadians of WWII. These two people existed in two different places at the same time in history. Both groups were stripped of their national identities, both groups had all or nearly all of their property repossessed by government bodies, both groups were interned and subjected to horrible living conditions and hard labour. In Canada, the government stopped just a few steps short of the Nazi party. While keeping in mind the objective purpose of the above example (I do not readily have facts and figures available, though parallels can be drawn), can someone explain to me how such base human rights as citizenship, particularly of second-generation Japanese-Canadians, and all other rights associated with citizenship be taken away from a person, yet ethics and human rights still be considered universal?

    And stemming from that train of thought, how can ethics dictate morality, yet morality cannot have any bearing on the value of ethics? To me they are two parts of a whole that communicate equally with each other, and are also determined, or else manipulated, by interpretation.
  • Nov 12 2012: Human rights, as a theoratical concept, is political and sometimes applied as legal frameworks. As such it is not necessarily moral (or as others below suggested ethical). [Quick definitions: moral- study of good and evil to direct human behavior; ethics- rational rules and procedures for proper etiquette (proper in the sense of agreed values].

    There are some shared foundations and concerns as all three are human constructions that questions 'right' behavior and whose answers are often derived from similar conceputal systems.

    For instance, an American Christian might argue that morality is founded in God's word. God gave us free will to choose good or evil and his word gives us the direction of good and means to rebuke evil. One aspect of the good pursued by the individual can be granted and protected by the government in the form of "human rights" as God does. If God grants individuals the freedom to pursue the good, then government ought to do the same in a similar fashion that God does.

    An easy example to formulate to show the difference between morality, human rights, and ethics within a general system)

    American Christian System:
    Morality-immulating God (good); Human Rights- freedom to pursue the good (study, speaking, worship, challenge, etc--inquiry); ethics- laws (or rules) of those involved (power-consensual value-shared) through the rational form (logical development from foundational values) of deciding conduct and the judging of behavior within the group (mutual or visting members) as God would.
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    Nov 9 2012: Morality deals with the distinction between "good" and "bad" behaviour. Human rights are universal and egalitarian where morality is usually defined by a dominant culture.

    To really answer your question, one must find the common ground between the two. It is considered immoral behaviour to kill another human in the tenets of all the major religions. The right to live is also the foremost of all human rights. They are both part of the same thing. The distinctions lay in the excess. For universal morality to exist in harmony with human rights, humanity as a whole must amalgamate their differing moral principals to find common ground that adheres to the universal code of human rights.

    It is optimistic to believe that this kind of unity can exist on our planet, but I believe that one day it is possible.
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    Nov 19 2012: I'd like to think of human rights as an idea, the one of treating a person as human, wholly context specific as opposed to the nonsense UN came up with - which is virtually an extension of a particular dialogue. Morality are not human right - they are simply personal principles which helps us distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

    Furthermore, morality could rest on religion or any ethical code but there's got to be a personal reference. Its not collective - Mr A could consider fornication as an immoral act (based on Christianity) while Mr B doesn't (based on secularity).
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    Nov 19 2012: Morality is about good and evil, right and wrong. Now, in terms of morals, there are absolutes, and there are departures from one or the other. There are things that are considered by human beings(except the depraved who would see differently like the colour-blind) as totally horrible and unacceptable; there are also things that are condemned by some but equally defended by some others, things that have to do with individual/society's choices.

    Human rights is an abstract concept in the sense that it is open to numerous possibly confusing interpretations. Just like democracy wears different toga in various parts of the world and one can hardly tell what it actually is.
    Those who belief that the ideals of human rights would produce the same results as the pursuit of morality should be able to show, not merely through intellectual abstractions, but by pointing to a real society, which has produced a model 'human rights'

    Immorality (lies,bribery,corruption,infidelity,unpatriotism,greed e.t.c) are not acceptable as ideal in any human society; but a lazy man could appeal to his 'right' to have a share of the wealth of the diligent rich; a terrorist can defend hate speech with his 'right' to say anything he or she likes and a paedophile can defend his 'right' to pleasure. All the above depraved souls could defend their views and demands with the concept of 'human rights'.
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      Nov 19 2012: "Immorality (lies,bribery,corruption,infidelity,unpatriotism,greed e.t.c) are not acceptable as ideal in any human society"

      Did you say greed, the propellent of human society, is not accepted in any human society? The term "accepted" denote legality. Understand that morality is a personal, as opposed to collective, question. Consider abortion or gambling as a moral question - they are accepted.
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        Nov 19 2012: That is why I pointed out in my earlier comment that in terms of morality there are absolutes and there are grey areas.
        If greed is a propellent of the human society, then we must be out of our minds to condemn Idi-Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Gaddafi and other dictators who have corruptly enriched themselves.
        And why do we bother condemning the shady bankers and multinationals for the financial crises?
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        Nov 19 2012: That is why I pointed out in my earlier comment that in terms of morality there are absolutes and there are grey areas.
        If greed is a propellent of the human society, then we must be out of our minds to condemn Idi-Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Gaddafi and other dictators who have corruptly enriched themselves.
        And why do we bother condemning the shady bankers and multinationals for the financial crises?
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    Nov 18 2012: Morality, what is moral, can include animals etc. It depends what you choose to focus on.

    I note historically concerns about rights went from lords, to land owning men, to men in general outside your tribe, to women, to children, to other races, then to animals generally after all the rest. Maybe even the environment.

    I suggest our idea of morality has evolved and broadened in some societies, depending how advanced.
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    Nov 13 2012: Nope !!!!!
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    Nov 11 2012: There are no such thing as inherent human rights. If two people are born at the same time and one has the right, which one has the responsibility to give it to the other?
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      Nov 12 2012: You could say they both have the right to not be murdered by the other. If a right is inherent, one simply doesn't take it away from another in the first place.
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      Nov 19 2012: it is not about giving a right, but not taking it from another
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        Nov 19 2012: All of this is true and I believe passionately that we should treat each other iwth dignity and compasion, however many people bandy about the term 'Rights' as though they believe they should be given them by others and that I feel is where the process breaks down.
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    Nov 10 2012: I differentiate between morals and ethics. For me, morals are something that are taught by either religions or states. Ethics, on the other hand, are innate in humans and animals. In the USA today, too many tightly held moral values are unethical, because they are so cruel and destructive. That's because the USA has become a tyrannical Christian theocracy. They adhere to rules given them by men rather than the eternal wisdom of our common being.
  • Nov 9 2012: "Is all morality about human rights?"

    No, human rights have to do with ethics, not morals.
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      Nov 9 2012: This is not correct in the given context, as 'human rights' were defined by ethics and put to practice by morals.

      Ethics is the 'theory of moral' and it was used to define the 'human rights'.

      Moral is the entirety of 'etiquette' or 'code of behaviour' on which a group or an individual acts upon.

      So both, ethics and morals, are parts of 'human rights'.
      • Nov 9 2012: No, if human rights were defined by morals then you'd have different sets of human rights in different countries. Morals are influenced by religion and other aspects of culture, ethics are supposed to be universal, they can't be based on religion or tradition, you have to be able to explain them to a Martian.


        Ethics and morals are not the same, they happen to agree sometimes but you cannot back up ethics with "because the bible says so", unlike morals. Sex between two consenting adults is a moral issue in some deeply religious countries, but it is not an ethical issue. Ethics are not based on morals.
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          Nov 9 2012: 'No, if human rights were defined by morals then you'd have different sets of human rights in different countries.'

          You are right here and this is because and as I stated, they got defined by ethics.

          If 'human rights' would be understandable to 'Martians' if they were not humanoid, is a different question...
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          Nov 9 2012: If you would use the 'Reply' function on comments instead of using '@below' additions within your ones, people get notified about these changes and can respond better.

          I did not mention that ethics and morals are the same, because they are not the same. So I don't see any contradiction in my comment and what you are trying to make me understand.

          Ethics does not rely on moral, but moral can be based on ethics.

          As a matter of fact, if you wan't 'human rights' to be not only accepted but also applied, you need to incorporate this ethic into the moral code, because otherwise it is not put into practice.

          The bible and sex can interfere with ethics, but they do not necessarily influence it.
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        Nov 10 2012: .
        Why do we need a moral code if we have an in-built ethical code, which I believe we do.
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          Nov 11 2012: This question to me is like the 'egg / chicken paradox'. Do we really have an in-built ethical code, as you believe, or is this code part of nurture and influenced by moral.

          I figuered for 'ethics', that it is very easy to have those 'but' exceptions applied to it, so that I don't know of a single ethical rule today which was 'untouchable' or 'absolute' in its validity.

          If I imagine that I was born as a viking and would have been raced to become a warrior - taking lives for 'valid' reasons at that time would not have me troubled much, if at all.

          I bring this up, because 'killing' another human is a matter of ethics, yet it does not seem to be 'absolute' at all. So if there was this 'in-built' code as you say, what contains it?

          This is why I spoke about ethics as the ''theory of moral'', because to me it is a construct of our minds.

          Maybe you can point me some facts which I missed on this and to make me understand what your 'in-built' code contains.
  • Nov 9 2012: Issues of morality are not limited to human rights, but rather human rights are intrinsically tied to issues of morality, and morality is not necessarily limited to humans. An example of this might be hunting practices in various countries. In Canada there is the annual seal hunt, in Japan there is the dolphin hunt. Much of the controversy regarding such practices are centered around the ethics and morals pertaining to those traditions (i.e. the killing of those animals, how they are killed). That controversy can also be extended to the cultures of the people involved. How much right do they have to practice something that has historically been a part of their identity? Are they obligated by popular vote to abolish a time honoured tradition? Maybe the better question might be is: How is morality subjective?
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    Nov 9 2012: Re: "One can argue that morality is a human construct as we are the only species (at present) able to recognize and live by its existence.
    Where did morality evolve from if not other animals?
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      Nov 19 2012: it could be someone's common sense like when you think of an invention or an idea. for example, after seen someone committing detrimental acts against another even a distant community could have come with a set of new morality based rules. I don't think certain things have to evolve from something else.
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    Nov 9 2012: If rights are entitlements and what is owed and morality is manner, character, and proper behavior then we have mixed apples and oranges here.

    The concern for animals and the environment or just man falls under symbiosis. In order to survive we must interact and appreciate nature.

    In order to explore this further it would be required to wear togas and set under a olive tree and debate the merits of each.

    All the best. Bob.