Life, Language, Law: Essays in Honor of Arthur F. Bentley

By Richard W. Taylor | Go to book overview

XI
Human Rights: An Appeal to Philosophers*

By FELIX S. COHEN

PERHAPS THE GREATEST of all the riddles that the Sphinx of History has put before our generation is the problem of how, if at all, men of different races, conflicting religions, and opposing economic and political faiths, can live together on a shrinking earth. This is the kind of problem on which human beings have habitually turned to philosophers for guidance. We all know the penalty that the Sphinx imposes for failure to answer such riddles. And so today the peoples of the world ask for philosophical vision in meeting the practical question: What rights, if any, can a man claim of me not because he is my brother or my neighbor or my colleague or co-religionist or fellow-citizen, but just because he's human?

This is a practical lawyer's appeal for help on behalf of clients to whom the question of human rights is particularly pressing. It so happens that some of these clients are aliens, not citizens, so they can't very well talk or worry about rights of citizenship. Many of them are without property, and so not deeply interested in rights of property. Many of them have no jobs, and so are not particularly interested in the rights of labor. But all of them are human, and if that gives them any rights, they would like to know, and I, as their lawyer, would like to know, what those rights are. And so I come to a forum of the wise men of America searching for light on that problem. If I can return to my clients with even one lighted candle, that would be better than sitting and cursing the darkness. But I should like to return with a whole candelabra of seven candles illuminating seven

____________________
*
These remarks were presented as an address at the 1952 annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, reprinted by permission of The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 6, No. 4 ( June, 1953).

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