Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Evening Note for Tuesday, March 5

Thought for the Evening: Person as Subsistent Right

Antion Rosmini wrote a voluminous philosophical study of the concepts of 'right' and 'rights'. 'Right' he defines as "a moral power, or authority to act" or "a faculty of acting, protected by moral law, which obligates others to respect it" (The Essence of Right, Book I, Chapter I). 'Rights' are right as applied to specific cases, and they are known on the proprietà, which Cleary and Watson like to translate, sensibly, as 'ownership', but which I think could sometimes be better translated as 'belonging'. Rights concern what is your own, what belongs to you, what is proper to a person.

The most obvious thing we might want to say is your own is you. But obviously in some sense it's also odd to say that you belong to you. The reason is that your 'right to your own person' is not a right like other rights, but in some sense more fundamental. If we think about the definition of 'right', where do we find it? All the elements of it are found in the person, as an intellectual subject capable of free action. Right is just a way of being a person. On the basis of this, Rosmini argues, we should say that a person is subsistent right (Rights of the Individual, Book I, Chapter III, Article I). To talk of human rights is just to talk about the human person.

We can see this in another direction by considering reason itself, and how it gives everyone who has it a power of dominion or authority:

But because the dignity of the light of reason (ideal being) is infinite, nothing can be superior to the personal principle which of its nature acts on the promptings of a teacher and lord of infinite dignity. Such a principle is naturally supreme; no one has the right to command that which depends upon the commands of the infinite.
[Antonio Rosmini, Rights of the Individual, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham:1993) p. 21.]

It follows from this that one always has a duty not to injure the person. But right is the complement of duty. Thus the person is subsistent right. All specific rights concern what belongs to a person, what is proper to the person, what is personal. The person has dominion, first over the capabilities and capacities they have by nature, then over extensions of these as we acquire new personalia, things that are ours, things that become united to us.

All of rational jurisprudence, then, can be derived from the proper understanding of the person; and, conversely, a poor understanding of the person will lead to a poor understandings of the rights that a person has or can have. The human person is the principle or standard that establishes the genus of all human rights. It also follows from this recognition that there are natural rights (although Rosmini prefers to call them 'rational rights'), and that all positive rights in fact depend on these natural rights and ultimately on subsistent right itself.


Various Links of Interest

* Richard Pettigrew, Dutch Books, Money Pumps, and 'By Their Fruits' Reasoning

* Namwali Serpell, The Banality of Empathy. This is a fascinating discussion of literature and ethics, and I'm still sorting through what my thoughts about it are.

* Medieval Pattern Poems of Rabanus Maurus

* Drossbucket reviews The Eureka Factor; the review ends up being an excellent discussion of the nature of creative insight.

* Lynne Olson, The Hedgehog's Great Escape, tells some of the fascinating story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who joined the French Resistance, became perhaps its foremost spy, and managed to escape the Gestapo.

* Jordana Cepelewicz, Smarter Parts Make Collective Systems Too Stubborn. (The title is somewhat misleading; the article really reviews various ways in which changes to parts can improve or mess up the systems of which they are part, sometimes in surprising ways.)

* Thomas Hurka, From golf to Grand Theft Auto, why do we love playing games? I remember being in graduate school and Thom even then was arguing for Bernard Suits's analysis of games as a model of philosophical analysis. I talked about what are, in my view, the strengths and weaknesses of the analysis before (ten years ago!).

* Jacob Stegenga argues that there are serious problems with the standard reasoning by which we take the usual antidepressant medications to be antidepressant.

* Since the dose makes the poison, I shouldn't be surprised, but apparently you can become seriously intoxicated from drinking too much Earl Grey (due to the oil of bergamot). I've heard, although I don't know the medical facts, that the same is true of jasmine in tea. You have to drink a lot, though.

* Luke Timothy Johnson, Can We Still Believe in Miracles? and Michael Sweeney, Beyond Personal Piety: The Laity’s Role in the Church’s Mission from Commonweal; both of these are far superior articles than I have seen in Commonweal for a long time.

Currently Reading

Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea
Blaise Pascal, Pensees
Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience
Plotinus, The Enneads
Jules Verne, L'Archipel en feu

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