Ethics and Human Rights RelationshipJune 28, 2021
The relation of human rights to law is well known. But there is little talk of the necessary connection between human rights and ethics. However, it is not possible to talk about human rights without an ethical basis.
The idea of human rights, which is based on a certain understanding of the human being, is concerned with the preconditions of ensuring a “human life”, a life worthy of human dignity. Human rights norms state that what conditions are provided to people, what is not done to people or what people do not do, a humane life can be achieved. Therefore, the idea of human rights is essentially an ethical thought. It states that a person has value or dignity, and that one should behave in accordance with this honor or value – or that people should behave like that.
Human rights are an idea, a thought, an idea of necessity. “Human rights, also called ‘fundamental rights’, ‘personal rights’, ‘fundamental person rights’, express certain requirements related to human beings – some requirements for every being that is a member of the human species. …These requirements appear as demands to protect the value of human beings – that is, to protect people just because they are human” (Kuçuradi 2009a, 58). If the person doing the action does not want to harm human dignity or value, in other words, if he wants to act ethically, human rights norms tell him how to behave. Human rights norms sometimes appear as positive norms that specify what should be done, and sometimes as negative norms that indicate that whatever behavior a person is exposed to will be a violation of rights. What they want to protect is human worth or dignity. Therefore, human rights norms are ethical norms. These norms express the demands of people to protect the opportunities that are unique to human beings. Human rights norms are “statements of necessity” that express what we should not do and what we should do if we want these possibilities to be realized.
Norms refer to an action, a work of art, a thought, a situation, a concept, etc. Propositions that are used to evaluate things and that claim to be general or universally valid.
It is such norms that we encounter in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. These are the norms that sometimes express how to behave, sometimes how not to behave, and sometimes what is allowed and what cannot be allowed. In the broad sense of the word, human rights norms are standards and criteria related to ethics and personal actions. All human rights norms are about actions, even though there are differences between the places they are derived from or the sources they are derived from. They tell what to do and what not to do.
It is requirements of this kind that make up individual rights. It is to protect human-specific, human-specific opportunities in individual people, therefore to protect the value of human beings, while protecting or wanting to protect the value of each person as a human. Due to the ambiguity of the concept of “value” and the difficulties experienced in separating “values” from “non-values”, although today it is mostly avoided to talk about values, the connection between human rights and ethics is one of the issues on the human rights agenda. The reason for this is that despite its “metaphysical” aspects, it is seen as an unavoidable subject. When talking about something that needs to be protected or expected, that thing is valued or thought to be something valuable. If it is said that “human rights should be protected”, the assumption that human is a “valuable” being lies at the heart of this. Or “Why human rights?” is faced with the question. Answering such a question is possible by showing and justifying why people have certain fundamental rights. This justification cannot be based on any solid ground other than that human being is a being with value or dignity.
Compiled by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook