The Individual and the Political Order: An Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy

By Norman E. Bowie; Robert L. Simon | Go to book overview

But in view of the basic similarities among all humans, discrimination at the fundamental level seems ad hoc. It seems unintelligible that a mere difference in skin color could by itself negate the importance of the factors enumerated above--the factors whose importance is already acknowledged within the elitist community itself. Thus, it hardly seems unreasonable to require the elitist to spell out the connection between any proposed ground of discrimination and the worth of individual persons. Indeed, in view of the great plethora of elitist positions, e.g., anti-Semitism, sexism, various forms of racism, it seems far from arbitrary to once again place the burden of proof on the elitist. In practice, elitists themselves give testimony to the arbitrariness of their fundamental discriminatory principles since they themselves generally seek to justify their discrimination by appeal to principles intelligible to everyone. Thus, one is far more likely to hear, "Women should not hold responsible positions because they are emotionally fitted for raising children," than, "Women should not hold responsible positions because they are women."


SUMMARY

Our discussion suggests that natural rights are justified as conditions which must be satisfied if humans are to live and develop as autonomous moral agents. They protect us from being reduced to mere means in the pursuit of the overall social good, or of being victims of oppressive elitist moralities. While the claim that natural rights are fundamental requires more examination than we can give it here, we hope to have made a plausible case for it. While it is doubtful whether claims about natural rights (or any other fundamental basis for morality) can be strictly proved in any mathematical sense, a moral perspective based on rights does seem to capture our firmest intuitions about the foundations of our moral view. Perhaps the ultimate justification of the natural rights perspective, however, is its application in practice; a task to which we will turn in later chapters.

In our view, natural rights are not only the most fundamental of moral commodities; they are also equally the rights of all persons. Attempts to rule out whole classes of competent humans, who clearly are moral agents, on such grounds as race, sex or ethnicity, are open to the charge of arbitrariness. If natural rights are valuable precisely because they protect our status as autonomous agents, all moral agents have a presumptively equal claim to natural rights.


Natural Rights, Justice, and the State

In our view, natural rights are those entitlements whose protection and implementation are needed to safeguard human dignity, autonomy,

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