The papers for the conference can be found in a Dropbox file.
My paper is entitled "The Darwinian Science of Thomistic Natural Law."
Here are my comments on the papers, which I have circulated among all the participants.
Even as Hunt stresses the primacy of emotion in this understanding of human rights, she also recognizes the role of reason. Human rights have a kind of "inner logic" or a "kind of conceivability or thinkability scale" (150). She illustrates this by showing how the French revolutionaries were driven by the logic of human rights to extend the circle of humanitarian concern. Declaring that all human beings are equal in their natural rights inevitably inclines us to expand that equal protection to new groups of human beings. So, for example, once the French revolutionary leaders had granted religious liberty to Protestant Christians, this made it easier to see the need for granting liberty to Jews.
Nevertheless, as Hunt shows, that logic of human rights was slowed in the 19th century by various ideological movements--nationalism, scientific racism, and Marxism--that were opposed to universal human rights. The natural human disposition to empathy is constrained by a natural tribalism, so that we feel less concern for those we regard as strangers or enemies. The Volkish nationalism of Hitler and the Nazis was an extreme manifestation of this natural tribalism.
Eventually, however, the moral revulsion against the barbarous atrocities of the first half of the 20th century provoked a renewal of the human rights movement beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. We can continue to see the emotional psychology of human rights in the work of governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) that publicize those brutal practices around the world that elicit our moral repugnance in the service of human rights.
This emotional resonance of empathy expressed in the disgust with cruelty confirms, Hunt concludes, the natural grounding of human rights in human moral emotions. "The history of human rights shows that rights are best defended in the end by the feelings, convictions, and actions of multitudes of individuals, who demand responses that accord with their inner sense of outrage" (213). "The process had and has an undeniable circularity to it: you know the meaning of human rights because you feel distressed when they are violated. The truths of human rights might be paradoxical in this sense, but they are nonetheless still self-evident" (214).
This history of human rights shows, Hunt explains, the complex interaction of genetic nature, neural structures, and cultural history.
"Needless to say, empathy was not invented in the eighteenth century. The capacity for empathy is universal because it is rooted in the biology of the brain; it depends on a biologically based ability to understand the subjectivity of other people and to be able to imagine their inner experiences are like one's own. . . ."
"Normally, everyone learns empathy at an early age. Although biology provides an essential predisposition, each culture shapes the expression of empathy in its own particular fashion. Empathy only develops through social interaction; therefore, the forms of that interaction configure empathy in important ways. In the eighteenth century, readers of novels learned to extend their purview of empathy" (39).
MURPHY ON THE GENETIC BASIS OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Originally, in the drafting of the Universal Declaration, Charles Malik a Lebanese Christian and Thomist proposed the following language for Article 16: "The family deriving from marriage is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. It is endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights antecedent to all positive law." The drafters accepted the first sentence but rejected the second, because they wanted a purely secular statement that did not depend on religious belief. Similarly, proposals to refer in Article 1 of the Declaration to human beings as "created in the image and likeness of God" were not adopted. The drafters of the Declaration thought that the shared repulsion towards Nazi barbarism and the determination to declare a universal morality of human rights that would condemn such barbarism manifested a natural morality that did not depend on religious belief. This cosmopolitan morality of human rights must somehow be grounded in human biological nature.
"(1) Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
"(2) Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people."
Article 1 declares: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
The reference to "barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind" reminds us, of course, that the Declaration was largely an expression of shared moral revulsion against the Holocaust and the other horrors of Nazism in World War II. The phrase "conscience of mankind" generalizes from the feelings of outrage that people around the world felt in response to the radical evils of Nazism. Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shows us how we derive "rights from wrongs" (a phrase used as the title of a book by Alan Dershowitz). That is to say, we formulate "rights"--justified entitlements to special treatment--from our experience of shocking injustices. The Declaration shows how moral outrage against atrocities expresses a universal morality that can be formulated as human rights rooted in the inherent dignity of all human beings.
These proposals for religious language about human beings as created in God's image provoked intense debate. Some of the drafters saw a stark opposition between God and nature as alternative sources for human reason and conscience. Bogomolov of the USSR attributed the phrase "by nature" to "French materialist philosophers." Finally, the Brazilians agreed to withdraw their religious language if the phrase "by nature" were dropped, and a consensus formed on this resolution of the dispute.
At one point, a proposed amendment would have changed "by nature" to "by their nature," which conformed to Malik's recollection that "the intention of the Commission on Human Rights had not been to imply that man was endowed with reason and conscience by an entity beyond himself." It is regrettable, I think, that the drafters did not go with this phrase "by their nature," because this would have clearly suggested their understanding that the source of human rights is neither a transcendent God nor a transcendent Nature, but human nature.
The first three articles are put under the title "Human dignity and the human genome":
“The human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity. In a symbolic sense, it is the heritage of humanity.”
“a. Everyone has a right to respect for their dignity and for their rights regardless of their genetic characteristics.
“b. That dignity makes it imperative not to reduce individuals to their genetic characteristics and to respect their uniqueness and diversity.”
“The human genome, which by its nature evolves, is subject to mutations. It contains potentialities that are expressed differently according to each individual's natural and social environment, including the individual's state of health, living conditions, nutrition and education.”
Here we can see much of the complexity and tension in appealing to human biology as a ground for human rights. Universal human rights assume a "fundamental unity of all members of the human family," which in turn assumes an underlying unity in the human genome, because membership in the human species requires some shared genetic basis.
We can also see here the fear of genetic reductionism. Although being genetically human is the precondition for being treated with the dignity that human beings deserve, human beings are not fully reducible to human genetics.
The human genome is recognized as a product of evolution and thus subject to evolutionary change through mutations. But there is enough genetic stability to sustain the reality of the human species.
That genetic humanity consists of potentialities that are diversely expressed in each individual through the interaction with the natural and social environment of the individual, which includes physical conditions, bodily functions, and social learning.
Human genes by themselves do nothing. They shape human life only though genetic potentialities working through complex interactions with the physical and social world. That's why human biology is much more than genetics. The biological nature of human beings depends on the coevolution of innate tendencies, social history, and individual life history.
The universality of human genetic nature allows for universal human rights. But the moral history of human rights will reflect the complex contingencies of social and political history.