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Joanne Donovan


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What are human rights? How do we decide and are they universal?

Are human rights the starting point we begin with when looking at how our societies function, or are there more important issues? How true is this statement; 'when people focus on being ethical without being pragmatic they end up being neither.'


Closing Statement from Joanne Donovan

Thanks to everyone who participated in this conversation. Some excellent threads. All the best to you and your families for the new year 2012. Peace.

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    Dec 15 2011: I suggest you to read the "Leviathan" by Thomas Habez .............
    I didn`t read it completely but my idea -which is inspired by that book- is the current society is in basic conditions which there`s no right and everyone should fight for his/her right.
    And if a government or a king or even a person claim for respecting to human rights it`s just an arrangement to gain some benefits -for example make people calm for taking taxes from them- and every time which suits for them they can break any right -like what we see in wars unfortunately-.
    This was my idea .
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      Dec 15 2011: Hi Amirpouya, you seem to be saying that anything done in the name of human rights, a constitution, or a judicial system, a social welfare project, are just further constructs of a capitalist system, designed only to keep the majority from rioting and overthrowing the people holding the reins. Do I have it right?
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        Dec 16 2011: Hi Joanne
        As I understood from nature and society till now- unfortunately yes.
        but as I said it is my idea.
        I don`t deny that we had -and have- some men and women like Gandhi or Cyrus the great -one of the ancient rulers of my country who wrote the human rights charter- who believed that humans should have some basic rights without wanting any money or power for themselves- but ......
        Leviathan -and another famous book : "Z"- changed my idea from an idealistic world to a real one.
        we have a famous idiom which means about : "Right is not givable.It is takable." or no one gives your right- you should get it.
        so everyone has the right which he/her fought for it before.
        • Dec 16 2011: You said - ""Right is not givable.It is takable." or no one gives your right- you should get it.so everyone has the right which he/her fought for it before."

          Here in the United States, we equate that to a lawless Wild West, with cowboys and whatnot, heard of it? This sets the stage for serious abuse. And in all honesty, to put it roughly, when you consider how govts create and/or support their own religions (ethical standards), as a means to an end, they are influencing "human rights" - regardless.......
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          Dec 19 2011: I think you are quite right about "rights," Amirpouya. They are basically taken, not given. A person's rights are similar to, for example, an antelope's rights. They are defined by the flock or group. It's in the flock's interest to protect its members, so the members can count on a right to be defended. Of course humans have carried this somewhat further than antelopes, and more and more "rights" are claimed here and there. But in the end you get the rights that the society is willing to give, and the history is that every such right had to be fought for, or "taken." The reason is usually that ensuring a right for me involves an obligation on someone else or on the group as a whole. Perhaps it even intrudes on someone else's presumed rights.

          (By the way, we spell the author's name Thomas Hobbes in English.)
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        Dec 16 2011: sorry but it was impossible to reply to your last comment .......
        you can equate my idiom to wild west or even the cavemen ages - but nature is always constant.
        And if your last sentence was about the current conditions of my country - you`d better know I`m a victim of these conditions and I agree with you.
        but I believe that the world everytime and everywhere have the same ruler: nature.
        and nature`s rule is power.
        It is what I understood from Leviathan.
        and we have another idiom that I think suits this place : (no cat catches mice for God sake.)
        sometimes in history the people had some rights which didn`t benefit their rulers apparently -Gandhi and Cyrus the great- but it was because of they loved their people.
        and that was not a "right". it was because of they benefited mentally by people`s happiness.it was an "arrangement" which everytime everyone could break it.
        I know what you and Derek have in U.S but see what your gov did in hiroshima - Iraq - Afghanistan - Pakistan -Vietnam - Iran and long before it to Indians in America.
        I believe that those genosides was because they didn`t benefit them as much as you are.
        I hope you to forgive me for my frankness.
        and I suggest you again to read Leviathan. I think It`s a dictionary rather than a philosophy book.
        • Dec 16 2011: My comment was not directed at your country or your situation - what ever that might be.

          Anyway, are you proposing that no good deed can be done out of pure love for another? If not, why do you assume that Gandhi and Cyrus created the human rights charter as a means to an end (their own happiness) as opposed to love?

          The author sounds to me like a moral Nihilist.
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        Dec 16 2011: moral nihilist .....
        Thomas Habez didn`t say what I say exactly.
        I said my thinkings are inspired by him.
        Even in some fields I disagree with him. so I think those words suit me !!!!!
        I believe that every right is giving because of a trade.
        for most of situations the trade is "right - power(or money)" and in rare ones (Gandhi and Cyrus the great) is because of love or "right - mental satisfaction".
        It is my thinking honestly. you can call it everything.
        And in all of types of government "democracy-monarchism-aristocracism-feodalism-anarchism and ...." always there is a trade - especially in feodalism and current societies : capitalism.
        If the matter of trade is love - it`s still a trade , but the society will be more happy and active.
        and if not - the society will be like a group of lambs that if the shepherd give them more grass - It`s because he wants gain more money from the butcher.
        yes - it`s totally nihilism - but could you call it False ?
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          Dec 16 2011: Unconditional love is not a "trade". It demands nothing and gives everything.
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          Dec 20 2011: By Helen's definition of unconditional love... Women should continue to love men who beat them. No offense Helen...
        • Dec 20 2011: David,

          The loving can be unconditional in action, but not in state. I may love my brother unconditionally, and be willing to go past the line for him, but let me find him abed with my wife, or daughter, and then watch the state change.

          The unconditional love she refers to seems to be more primarily unconditional, as in resting on a percieved firm foundation, than perfectly unconditional, as in just plain dumb.

          That some spouses actually do continue to love thier abusers is, methinks, another matter and more the latter.

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      Dec 16 2011: Amirpouya,
      1. what country do you live in?

      cuhs in the US, we have rights guaranteed in a constitution that, except in very extreme cases, can;t be infringed upon. I'd say those are the greatest human rights you could ask for. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

      2. I have heard plenty of people say what you said in some shape or form

      Usually, those people do not reside in the continental U.S. To be honest, the writer of that book sounds like a conspiracy theorist. Because I haven't spent one ounce of energy fighting for my rights, but I still have them. They aren't something tangible that can be taken or abused. Yes, our troops have gone in and it was a little shady. Sure, off the records ops and what not.

      The only reason I can't agree with you is cuhs I'm not seeing that in my life.
      • Dec 20 2011: Derek,

        The trade Amirpouya mentions is self evident in my society, and I am next door in Canada. I Daily trade mutual rights, such as not butting into line ( right to space and equality) , I do not steal others goods though I am trained to want them (right to property), I don't insult others religions or sexuality,(right to freedom of expression), etc...The union movement of the '20s, the civil rights movement, womens liberation, right to abortion, gay rights, are more glaring examples and all within living memory.

        Thomas Hobbes is a 17th century political and moral phisolsopher hailing from merry old England. In political philosophy he is held in the same reverance as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Kant, etc...Hobbes examined the then current concept of the "Social Contract", an Idea that individuals in a society have an underlying agreement of what rights are accorded to what individual. Whereas Rousseau ( 18c.)used the social contract to support very liberal arguments for governing, Hobbes followed the same concept to a justification of absolutism, such as monarchy.

        It seemed to be his feeling that man's natural state was conflict, over resources, mates, security, etc... In doing so he also recognized mankinds rational nature, and thus his desire to gain peace if possible. He thus theorizes the best course is to not do unto others what we would have them not do to us.

        Notice the difference between that and the adivce, do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The first is passive, the second active. Say we each have an apple.To Hobbes, the passive, - I don't take your apple, because my act would then legitimize your attempt to do the same to me. while the proactive - I should offer to share my apple, and you in turn might share yours. The former casts us as adversaries, and the latter allies..

        You decide which you preffer.

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      Dec 17 2011: Thanks Amirpouya, you have given me an interesting point of view, and I have been thinking about it for most of the day. I find that I disagree with you. I think we are born as loving whole complete entities and a sense of human rights comes out of this natural state of completeness with the world. Of course civilisation is a story of conflict and power struggles, so an individual's grip on ethics becomes distorted or in many cases. lost. Yet the closer an individual is to his original pure state (Ghandi, Mandela, Mother Theresa) the more connected to a natural sense of ethics, he or she will be. What do you think?
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        Dec 17 2011: Joanne -
        I'm not sure but I think you didn't understand my meaning very well.
        I think that our utopia are not so different : a city which what politicians say happens !
        what Thomas Habbez drew in Leviathan is a picture from basic situation of a society:
        a situation which we can see in wars or some movies like "gangs of New york".
        A situation which anyone fights against anyone else.
        Or as a philosopher -I forgot his name- said : kill your enemies and if you could your friends.
        My utopia is a place that everyone love their society and the purpose be society's benefit.
        But see the reality : everyone trade. Physically or mentally.
        As Helen replied on my comment the real love unconditionable - but who can claim he/she loves someone who hates him/her ?
        I believe that love is a phenomenon that converts pain to joy.
        But still lover gains something instead of giving something.
        When we are born , we have a clear and pure mind and full of love -
        but what nature teachs us is this : you can't love lambs and love hamburgers too.
        And I believe that if everyone believe to human rights like a religion - it becomes a respectful thing in that society - but we should wait for a renaissance ...
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          Dec 17 2011: I can see why, Amirpouya, you would look around you and form that conclusion. Yet I am interested if it is the only possible reality, i.e. if the current reality was inevitable and thus belongs to us humans completely, or if we have it because of a highly complex set of circumstances that began around ten thousand years ago.

          I think it is the latter, and therefore, I too wait for a renaissance.....
    • Dec 20 2011: Amirpouya,

      If you have not, I would suggest a reading of Rousseau and his concept of the Social Contract, and the rights of the governed, which were in active debate with Hobes and his Leviathen of a book. I might also reccomend Erasmus and Voltaire, as representative of liberal philosophy in the period. Hobes I think, isolated the individual and it's complex relationship with rights, overlooking the fact that rights require a community in order to be pertinant. Without a cohesive group you have simply anarchic rights, i.e: those that you can take. In this model, effective groups are much less likely to form, as there is less benifit to the individual members.

      Hobes, we must recall, wrote during the rebellious years which ended aristocratic absolutism in Europe and his concepts of real-polotik were based on his time. His period, and it's associated value system are incredibly removed from that which is common today, in that I despite being in the lower classes I find life to be anything but, "...nasty, brutish, and short."

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        Dec 20 2011: Ian
        To be honest with you I love to read those books -especially mr.Rousseau whom I read nothing by him- but since I came to this university (PUT) I couldn't even finish Leviathan...
        I will thank you if you explain your thoughts here.
        But I want to add something :
        I give an example from what mr.Hobbes said.
        Imagine we're living in a society.
        Have I any right about your life -to taking it- ?
        Mayebe you answer no - but mr.Hobbes answers yes !
        But you have this right about me too !
        So it's the deal : I forgive my right to you because I want you to do it too !
        And if you break this deal and harm me - there's no more deal. It becomes anarchy.
        So do you really think that safety has a meaning here ?
        Could you tell me what can I be sure about it ?
        And please care about the concept - not who said it.

        • Dec 20 2011: Amirpouya,

          By "not who said it", do you mean the origional author of the idea?, because Icertainly cannot claim to be author to thier thought. I assure you I have nothing against Hobes, if that is your meaning

          As to the distindtion between Rousseau and Hobbes, well they start from the same foundation and build entirely different ideas. The Social Contract they both addressed is an idea that within society we have a series of agreements which inform us as to the rights and wrongs of a situation as well as to whom our duty lies.

          Hobbes and his exchange of negatives, i.e.: I won't do to you what you won't do to me does accuratly predict behaviors in many cases, but that does not make it correct. As I said earlier it is also a very lonely philosophy, because it portrays life as conflict at every level, even into the family, mankinds oldest institution. I preffer, do unto others as I would have them do to me, as this is proactive and communal, rather than passive and individualistic.

          We are, I would argue, a communal species, and as such a theory of rights is a theory of groups, not of individuals. An individual has all and every rights, as the only man on earth who is to stop him? It is groups that must build the social contract.

          The rights accorded to individuals among hunter gatheres, (perhaps man's natural state) are informative here. Within the tribe it is very much do for others as you would etc... , but with outsiders it is more like Hobbes, I am not going to feed you if you are an unrelated group, but I will not attack you if you in turn don't attack me. A lame man among the hottentots vollunteered to be left behind during a hard desert crossing, rather than slow, and perhaps kill the clan. That is doing unto others... and I assert, a better method of grouping than Hobbes presents. Rather than a market of exchange, consider it a community of equals seeking the same goals, and recognizing that sharing our rights is better than hoarding them.


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