Concept and History Lecture 10/09/2013
*Be able to place theories and ideas of human rights in the context of history, don’t give
like a knowledge about the historical background
A Brief History of Modern Civilization
Aristotle 384 BC-322 BC
The Stoics (as influential thinkers) 301 BC-529 AD
Constantine 306 AD-337 AD
400 AD breaking down of Roman Empire
Dark Ages 5th-15th century AD
Protestant Revolution 1517
Thirty Year War (1618-1648) and Treaty of Westphalia (1648)
Glorious Revolution (1688-1689)
John Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689)
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Have an understanding of this
Summary of lecture: looking at the early justification of rights, but also look at the concept of duties
rights don’t come until the enlightenment period; somewhere in the dark ages we get
writers like Aquinas talking about rights, but we don’t know exactly what he said
Really the idea of rights comes in the later part of the enlightenment.
Rights are the justified claim for something or someone that is owed
Greeks were not interested in rights, but in understanding human behaviour
The source of moral principles (proper behaviour for individuals) is nature
So, the nature of a human tells us what that human is for, and how it should be treated
Humans are rational and political animals so should pursue of life of intellectual inquiry
and/or a life of political deliberation
Not talking about Rights, but Duties
Looking at a concept called natural law, this eventually does flow into the idea of rights,
Historians would say most religions would say we have a duty to act in a certain way
treating people with a sense of dignity
The idea of rights is really a Christian idea, for the most part, scholars say human
rights are a western/Christian product, even though now we consider it as a secular
That is not saying other religions didn’t have this conception, but we are talking about a
Christian narrative here, but that’s just the story here. The Pre-Christian Antescedence:
Greeks were considered the cradle of western civilization, and since the western
civilization is in human rights this is where we start
had a notion of natural law coming form early writers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
The Socratic philosophers.
Pre-Socratic Greek thinking is a whole different animal (wont be tested on it)
the Greeks were not talking about rights yet like us, but were interested in
understanding human behavior, how should humans behave?
Your duties to behave in a certain way.
the source of the principles of right and wrong actions are not based in God, rather in
Nature (ie. The Christian God/Bible)
Greeks are not looking at God being the moral force in our lives, they’re looking at
Nature. And that it called Natural law.
when considering how a thing like a human being should act the Greeks relied on
reason and observation
they observed humans to determine what their nature is.
So the nature of a human tells us what the human is for, or how they should behave and
be utilized, as well as how they/it should be treated, and they observed that humans
hence Aristotle: man is by nature a political animal, it is in our nature, we aren’t taught it
is already imbedded inside of us
consequently at looking at men as rational and political, they believe that man should
pursue a life of reason
What did this mean?
a pursuit of philosophical observation, scientific inquiry, and political deliberation
we should be in a collective like this The Stoics:
Believed there were moral laws that we should abide by, but existed in a world watched
over by a rational god
Believed there were universal moral laws we should abide by, but they existed in a
world watched over by a rational god
Ideas were adopted by the Romans as a way of justifying their power over such a
Their dominance of thought from 301 BC- 529 AD, cautious of saying that because their
beliefs were taking up by the romans.
According to Orend they believed that the universe was one organic whole organized
by the laws of a rational God. WE ARE ALL CONNECTED according to the stoics,
regardless if you are Greek or not,.
Objective Moral Code:
Objective Moral Code = NATURAL LAW
Dictates how we should behave, and it regulated the free choices of human beings
but they argued and added, this code humans function in the universe that was
organized by the laws of a RATIONAL GOD. So there’s a god and it is his laws that we
so just as there are physical laws (gravity) so too are there moral laws that govern our
choices as human beings that we have to follow.
the stoics believed it was our duty to follow these moral/natural laws themselves
Content of the Stoics:
living a moral life is one that gives up worldly goods and pleasures, individual should be disciplined and self supported
these ideas aren’t just in Greek civilizations but can be universalized across all cultures.
early Greeks believed they were superior (man are superior to women, and if a
misbehaved in his life he would come back as a woman)
they believed we existed in a world governed by a rational god
humans should behave in a certain way that transcended beyond all cultures
their beliefs were dominant in the roman empire; well suited to the roman empire
Because the romans are out their conquring and expanding their empire, so national
and ethnic differences could be subsumed under one roman empire are actually
justified by stoic beliefs, therefore they can all behave in a single way and be untied in
Differences did not matter because they could all live in one empire entirely together, so
people living within this empire without violently opposing to it.
It told people you can live here and wont be inferior, because our laws are universal
Emperor Constantine/ Christian Empire:
the roman empire became a Christian empire by way of him
he adopted Greek thought and combined it with Christian thought
He made the official religion of the empire to Christianity
the switch from stoic thought to Christianity was not difficult because they did not leave
Greek thought but brought them together, because Christian thought was governed by
natural/true law of the one divine, and there was rationality.
Was not difficult to transition into as they were both governed by a universal moral code
No rights yet, but simply has natural law: this is how you should behave, a moral way
of living your life
by 400 AD we see the collapse of the roman empire b/c it became too big to stay afloat,
leads us into the dark ages.
Dark Ages: Don’t have a huge idea because political institutions collapse
A time where the only message of the roman civilization left was the Roman Catholic
Church, remained strong through this time and dominated European thought in this
We call this period the dark ages, but there is great flourishing and growth outside of
This collapse left a great power void in Europe so it was a time of lots of fighting
Not much is kn