Ranging from hateful expressions that humiliate minorities to wars that tear lives away to a literal sense, human rights violations come in different forms. But one thing they all share in common is that they tread not only on an individual human’s mind, but also on the human dignity of us all. In a global situation where hatred toward minority groups is rampant and war still puts people in despair, I believe long-term thinking in the field of philosophy can foster optimism about the future.
The foundational ideas of human rights and human dignity can be found in philosophy. The core idea of Kant’s ethics can be an example. In his notable work <The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals>, Kant claims “Act in such a way as to treat humanity as an end and never merely as a means”(Kant,2017, p.29). According to Kant, humans are distinguished from mere objects that do not have any will, but are only used for another purpose. We are differentiated from ‘things’, because we have reason and moral will, and limit our own actions based on that will. Based on this presence of reason, Kant insisted that humans have dignity. What should be noted is that Kant lived in an era where slavery and class structure still existed. Kant’s theory thus also leaves a message that philosophy can support the value of us humans when times are harsh and oppressive.
Human rights have been largely ignored based on political ideologies and power. For the sake of profit, power, and sense of superiority, brutality was permitted. The Nazi, colonialism and imperialism, and the recent Russia-Ukraine War show how human rights can be readily dismissed. Nevertheless, the philosophy behind human rights stands strong, holding up the idea that humans are valuable as themselves backed up by reason.
Through philosophy, people can come to a genuine understanding that everyone possesses worth as who they are. Philosophy relies on reasoning (Barnett, 2023), therefore holding the power to let people accept the significance of human rights and dignity. As written above, if no one is like mere ‘things’, no one deserves to be treated like ‘things’. People’s knowledge and understanding of the reasons for human rights and human dignity is valuable, because such knowledge can act as a norm for action to respect human rights (Hawthorne and Stanley, p.24). Letting the society understand the philosophical rationale of human rights and dignity will inevitably be a long, difficult process. That is why a ‘long-term’ mindset in philosophy is important for a better future, a future where human rights are better respected in this case.
In the 21st Century, philosophy is generally regarded as obsolete. However, if it had not been for the philosophical theories behind human rights, such an important idea may not have been able to be created at all. Philosophy can also elicit people’s understanding of human rights itself and its necessity, which serves as a basis for respectful actions toward fellow humans and themselves. For its potential to let everyone be more respected as who they are, I believe long-term thinking in philosophy can foster optimism about the future.
Kant, I. (2017). Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals. p.29.
Hawthorne, J. and Stanley, J. (n.d.). Knowledge and Action. p.24.
Language Humanities. (n.d.). What Is the Connection between Logic and Philosophy? [online] Available at: https://www.languagehumanities.org/what-is-the-connection-between-logic-and-philosophy.htm.