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The Role of Reason in the Historical Concepts of Human Rights - Essay Example

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The Role of Reason in the Historical Concepts of Human Rights

The classic example drawn from the Greek literature is that of Antigone, who upon being reproached by Creon for defying his command not to bury her slain brother, asserted that she acted in accordance with the immutable laws of the gods.
Human rights concepts however can actually be traced to an earlier period. The Old Testament of the Bible relates the story of ancient Israelites, and in it are abundant inferences about human rights, there is no well-developed statement on the issue but there are significant scattered passages that give clear evidence of a point of view at least as advanced as Greek and Roman philosophy.
The Ten Commandments for example, by the prohibition of murder and theft, give implicit recognition is considerably broadened by later elaboration of the laws and by the passionate discourses on justice by such prophets as Amos that can be read in his book in the Old Testament If the concept of human rights is very old, the general recognition of their validity is not, throughout most of history governments failed to accepts the notion that people have rights independent of the state, this called statism and it implies the supremacy of the state in all matters pertaining to the lives of subjects, it is still potent concept in the 20th century, Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union during the rule of Joseph Staliln are prime examples of statism.
It was not until after the Middle Ages, however that natural law doctrines became closely associated with liberal political theories about natural rights, in Greco-Roman and Medieval times natural law doctrines taught mainly the duties, as distinguished from the rights of man, in addition as evidence can be read in the writing of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, these doctrines recognized the legitimacy of slavery and serfdom (someone who is bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord) and in doing so, excluded perhaps the central most ideas of human rights as they are understood today, the ideas of freedom or liberty and equality. For the idea of human rights to take hold as a general social need and reality, it was necessary that basic changes in the beliefs and practices of society take place, changes of the sort that evolved from about the 13th century to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), during the Renaissance and the decline of feudalism. When resistance to religious intolerance and political-economic bondage began the long transition to liberal notions of freedom and equality, particularly in relation to the use of ownership of property, then were the foundations of what today is called Human Rights truly laid.
During this period reflecting to the failures of the rulers to meet their natural law obligations as well as the unprecedented commitment to the individual expression and worldly experience that was characteristics of the Renaissance, the shift from natural laws of duties to natural laws as rights was made.
The teaching of Aquinas (1224/25-1274) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) on the European continent and the Magna Carta (1215), the ...Show more

Summary

The term "human rights" is comparatively new, having come into everyday manner of speaking only since World War II and the founding of the United Nations in 1945, it replaces the phrase "natural rights", which fell into disfavors in part because the concept of natural law to which it was intimately linked had become a matter of great controversy, and the later phrase "the rights of Man" which was not universally understood to include the rights of women.
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