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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More from Wolterstorff

As I indicated in the Preface, I engage myself in the practice of philosophy as a Christian. That remained in the background for large stretches of the discussion: here, in our discussion of natural human rights, it has come into the foreground.

The following should be added: if one believes that there are natural inherent human rights, then the fact that the secularist cannot account for those rights, whereas the theist who holds convictions about God's love that I have delineated can do so, is an argument for theism (of that sort). Not a foundationalist argument, but an argument nonetheless. I believe that there are natural human rights. Human beings, all of them, are irreducibly precious.

(It won't surprise you that I think this is arguing backwards. I don't deny the usefulness of a body of international human rights law, though what we have is imperfect. But to me it's pretty obvious that all talk of "natural inherent human rights" is nonsense on stilts - certainly not the kind of thing that you can use as a premise in an argument for the existence of God.)

12 comments:

Christian Munthe said...

I actually find the logic of the argument sound. But it depends on the assumption that there are fundamental human rights, and the validity of W's argument for the claim that there can't be any such right unless teism holds. But if those two hold up to scrutiny, we can do the inference:

1. There are fundamental human rights (A)
2. Unless teism is true, there can't be any fundamental human rights (If A, then B)
3. Therefore: teism is true (B)

Having said that, I don't believe either that there are fundamental human rights, or that the truth of claims that there are such rights are dependent on the truth of teism. Would be interesting if you had a quote where the argument for premise 2 is set out, Russell.

Russell Blackford said...

You really need to read the book (Justice) to see how he tries to ground the claim that natural inherent human rights can be grounded (only) theistically. I don't find his attempted grounding very plausible, but I can't do, um, justice to it in a short post or comment.

Wonderist said...
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Wonderist said...
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Wonderist said...
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Russell Blackford said...

But yes, the argument is valid. It's more or less:

P is true if and only if Q is true (so thus: ~Q --> ~P); P is true; therefore Q is true.

So:

1. ~Q --> ~P
2. P
Therefore ~~P (from 2.)
Therefore ~~Q (Modus tollens)
Therefore Q.

A lot of these new-fangled theistic arguments use that kind of logic.

John S. Wilkins said...

As always it relies upon assumptions that subtly include a petito. The very idea of natural rights is based upon a claim that God instituted in natural law a moral order. No other support for that claim makes even the slightest sense (and certainly not Sam Harris' latest attempt at moral naturalism). So the argument resolves to:

God made natural rights.

Natural rights imply a God.

Therefore there is a God.

Brian said...

A lot of these new-fangled theistic arguments use that kind of logic.
Soon they'll progress from sentential calculus to quantifier logic. I guess it's a step up from deeming the syllogism the whole of logic....

Does that make Plantinga and his modal ontological argument an outlier? He's an over acheiver if sentential calculus is the happening thing in theistic logic.

Svlad Cjelli said...

Valid logic really isn't very impressive on its own, though.
"Garbage In; Garbage Out", to use a phrase from computation.

Russell Blackford said...

"Valid" isn't much use at all if one or more of the premises are implausible. I take it that Christian M meant "valid" rather than "sound". If we judge an argument to be sound we are saying that it is deductively valid AND its premises are true. But it's clear that that's not what Christian had in mind.

Although these sorts of arguments are valid, they seem to me to work backwards because they start off with a claim that is, ex hypothesis, highly controversial, and supposedly false unless the similarly controversial conclusion is accepted. That's pretty shaky.

In this case, we should conclude that it's very dubious whether there are natural inherent rights of the kind under discussion (which should lead us to attempt a more nuanced analysis of human rights), rather than concluding that God exists.

Christian Munthe said...

Indeed Russell, thanks for applying the principle of charity there - all these almost synonyms of the English language continues to haunt us non-natural speakers.
@ John: I concede re. Sam Harris, but wonder about this: "The very idea of natural rights is based upon a claim that God instituted in natural law a moral order." Well, from Hobbes and on there has been some opposition to that idea, hasn't it? And before Christianity, the idea of basing moral truths on theories of human nature or reason was the norm, it seems. But perhaps you mean very specific ideas about the content of these rights? That is, while there are, at least, minimally plausible ideas in metaethics besides "supernatural constructivism", none of these would render the actual rights that W. would like to have justified. I agree. Kant made the daring attempt to prove otherwise but, as far as I can tell, even Kantians nowadays admit that he failed splendidly.

Richard Wein said...

John wrote: "The very idea of natural rights is based upon a claim that God instituted in natural law a moral order."

Perhaps that's true of Wolterstorff's argument, which I haven't read. But in general I don't think it's true. Most people have a strong intuitive belief in moral obligations and natural rights, and apologists who make this kind of argument usually appeal to that intuition. Many atheists will accept the premise, and they presumably are not doing so on the basis of any belief in God having instituted a moral order.

"No other support for that claim makes even the slightest sense..."

I think an appeal to intuition makes some sense. In my view it takes some good reasoning to see that this intuition is mistaken.