Human Rights and Modernity: The Truth of the Fiction of Individual Rights

Journal of Religious Ethics 16 (1):160 - 189 (1988)
Accepting MacIntyre's teleological argument that the notion of individual rights is an invention or fiction, the article argues, against MacIntyre, that such a fiction may be interpreted as a creative response to the social requirements of modernity. Such rights language discloses the essential features of modernity but also the underlying teleological and moral structure of all human association. But whether rights language is perceived as a fall from morality or as a creative differentiation of moral language depends on a reading of history and especially on the interpretation of the Enlightenment project. Jürgen Habermas is used for an alternative reading of the Enlightenment and the relation of rights to the normative teleology of language itself. But both readings of history turn out to be theodicies, dependent upon hidden theological assumptions. Whether a society centered on a notion of rights can be governed by teleology can only be answered theologically.
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