What does it mean

to be a Person?

At the Rebus Institute, we're exploring answers to this question.

Throughout the centuries in western civilization, the purpose of a liberal arts education was understood to be the mechanism by which each of us are inducted into the quest for truth.

The truth is transcendent, but not unattainable or abstract.  With the right tools and methods, we are well equipped to engage in that age-old quest for human liberation.

Latest

UN: Convention on Genocide (1948)

On December 9th 1948, the UN released its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. December 2018 was the 70th anniversary of the Convention.  What has been learned?  Read the full text here.  

Read a commentary on the Convention and an interview with Norman Naimark on Genocide in literature here.

UNESCO Representation

Ostensibly, UNESCO's first conference held in Paris in 1946 was to be the showcase of the nations of the world to agree on universal standards for human rights, justice and progress of persons. 

 

The European nations present at the conference however represented more than half of all the delegates from around world; the UK, with an population of about 49 million in 1946 was represented by 52 delegates, closely followed by France with 48 delegates from a population of 40 million; India, with a population of 390 million had 10 delegates; Argentina, with a population of 171 million had just 8 (you can see the rest of the statistics in our report, here). 

 

Of course, not every delegate represented a unique voting power; but certainly we have to examine the influence exerted over the proceedings  by the most influential contributors to the conference.  Consider, for example, the documents on our UNESCO Philosophy page, including "Visions for UNESCO" and Huxley's "UNESCO: It's Purpose & It's Philosophy" to get a sense of the direction the largest contributors were taking the conference.

Jacques Maritain

On our Jacques Maritain page in the philosophy section, you will see that Maritain repeatedly denies the possibility in the modern world of arriving at a consensus on what constitutes a human right philosophically. This is not to say that he thought the endeavor to create a universal Bill of Rights was a waste of time; on the contrary; he was deeply concerned about the ideological landscape of the world and the threats to world peace; he understood that multinational agreement on rights was therefore essential to preserving world peace.  But his argument was that this Bill of Rights could not be established on the basis of a shared philosophy because for him, philosophy entailed subscribing to a coherent “philosophy of life” which included religious, ethical and political beliefs.  Since achieving a consensus in a world split apart by divergent ideologies (communism, capitalism, theocracy, etc) the only way to move forward on a universal declaration of rights was to get the UN member nations to agree on practical goals and to base a list of rights on these.  For example, there would be little hope of getting member states to agree that the existence of God necessitated a freedom of religion.  However, member states could be brought to agree that allowing people a right to exercise religious belief would eliminate or minimize civil unrest.  All member states aspired to peace within their own borders, and so rights could be promoted along these shared, practical lines.

Get more notes on the forum pages >

PHILOSOPHY &

ETHICS

Contributions of various scholars and philosophers from around the world, with a focus on the UNUDHR.

ARTICLES &

COMMENTARY

A collection of journal and news articles and academic essays on the notion of person, rights and justice.

UNESCO:

FOUNDATIONS

Documents, commentary and insight about UNESCO and its philosophical foundations, 1946 to the present.

Western allies and ideals dominate UNESCO's first conference, Paris 1946

December 01, 2017

Ostensibly, UNESCO's first conference held in Paris in 1946 was to be the showcase of the nations of the world to agree on universal standards for human rights, justice and progress of persons.  The European nations present at the conference however represented more than half of all the delegates from around world; the UK, with an population of about 49 million in 1946 was represented by 52 delegates, closely followed by France with 48 delegates from a population of 40 million; India, with a population of 390 million had 10 delegates; Argentina, with a population of 171 million had just 8 (you can see the rest of the statistics in our report, here).  Of course, not every delegate represented a unique voting power; but certainly we have to examine the influence exerted over the proceedings  by the most influential contributors to the conference.  Consider, for example, the documents on our UNESCO Philosophy page, including "Visions for UNESCO" and Huxley's "UNESCO: It's Purpose & It's Philosophy" to get a sense of the direction the largest contributors were taking the conference.

Analytical Philosophy at the UNESCO Symposium

November 22, 2017

The analytical philosophical approach looms large in the contributions of philosophers to the UNESCO symposium on rights.  It is for this reason that we find many of the contributors focusing on the relationship between rights and science (see for example F. S. C. Northrop’s contribution) or on rights and language.  We will be publishing more on these contributions shortly.

Maritain’s Practical Approach to Rights

October 11, 2017

On our Jacques Maritain page in the philosophy section, you will see that Maritain repeatedly denies the possibility in the modern world of arriving at a consensus on what constitutes a human right philosophically. This is not to say that he thought the endeavor to create a universal Bill of Rights was a waste of time; on the contrary; he was deeply concerned about the ideological landscape of the world and the threats to world peace; he understood that multinational agreement on rights was therefore essential to preserving world peace.  But his argument was that this Bill of Rights could not be established on the basis of a shared philosophy because for him, philosophy entailed subscribing to a coherent “philosophy of life” which included religious, ethical and political beliefs.  Since achieving a consensus in a world split apart by divergent ideologies (communism, capitalism, theocracy, etc) the only way to move forward on a universal declaration of rights was to get the UN member nations to agree on practical goals and to base a list of rights on these.  For example, there would be little hope of getting member states to agree that the existence of God necessitated a freedom of religion.  However, member states could be brought to agree that allowing people a right to exercise religious belief would eliminate or minimize civil unrest.  All member states aspired to peace within their own borders, and so rights could be promoted along these shared, practical lines.

Chung-Shu Lo’s Confucian Approach to Rights

September 20, 2017

Lo’s Confucian approach to human rights illustrates well Maritain’s practical approach to rights.  As Lo notes, the concept of human rights is largely a Western philosophy, and there had not been in Asia an equal philosophy of rights until this was introduced by the West.  Confucianism however had historically emphasised building social harmony in communities: in the family, the court, the town, etc.  Social harmony, however, is not an exclusive desire of Confucianism; it is a shared desire across the nations.  Rights which aimed at building the Confucian ideal of social harmony could thus be shared across borders by everyone, without having to reference the Confucian spiritual or religious metaphysics behind this desire.

Forthcoming Notes and Research: Edith Stein

August 15, 2017

One of our projects for the coming year is the publication of the work of women who, while often behind the scenes, do not hold a place in the published contributions to the 1947 Symposium.  This does not mean that women scholars made no contribution to the Symposium and certainly we find the work of women influencing the Symposium and rights debate both before and after 1947.  One key example is the work of Edith Stein, a brilliant phenomenologist and Jewish convert to Catholicism who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942.  Maritain personally knew Stein, and was, early on his career, influenced by the phenomenological movement and Stein’s work on intuition and empathy.  

1 / 2

Please reload

(c) October 2018: Rebus Institute & Rebus Education Services