Making the Empirical Case for Human Rights

I won’t try to speak for @Michael_Callen but I didn’t understand him as equating your biases. Instead, he said:

Perhaps you object to the characterization of your having a “model of faith”. Though other terminology might be more mutually agreeable, we all have models based on our respective sets of presuppositions. (After all, nobody functions free of presuppositions. For example, some people presume that empiricism is the only valid basis for one’s opinions and biases. Yet, that is nothing but a presupposition—and one that most philosophers, both theists and atheists, would reject. For example, the foundations of science-and-empiricism itself lie outside of science and empiricism. Indeed, the foundations of logic itself lie outside of science and empiricism.)

Granted, that is your position. And lots of people holding very different positions on a wide range of topics make the very same statement. (Indeed, I recently had an anti-evolution Christian make the very same statement when he learned that I affirm evolutionary biology. To him, I see what I want to see while he sees what the data warrants. He told me so.)


2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Why Did God Wait to Create the Universe?

@John_Harshman how do you empirically make the case for human rights? How do you empirically demonstrate that racism is wrong?

Before I answer, can you explain the relevance of these questions to the subject?

You say you are an empiricist, and this is how you determine truth. I want to know, then, how you come to understand these fundamentally important things from an empirical point of view. I have no doubt that you affirm universal human rights and believe racism is wrong. I’m just not sure how you can arrive at this view from empiricism. I want to hear how you arrive at this shared conclusion with me.

[Note, this seems off topic.We will probably split it to a new thread…]

1 Like

Truth within the domain of science, i.e. objective truths about the world, is what we were talking .

I don’t think morality is empirical, actually. One can study its origins in our close relatives. One can intuitively prefer some moral principles. One can study the effects on society of different moral principles. And one can prefer some effects to others based on certain assumptions about what is desirable. But there is no objectively true morality.

Racism, on the other hand, is not just morally wrong. Its usual bases (or perhaps excuses) are factually wrong.


It’s usual basis is in group loyalty and out group aversion. The facts are adapted to fit that psychology, but are entirely dispensable. There is always a way to rationalize taking care of people like us and holding back those that are different. What is the basis for declaring this just “morally wrong”?

That isn’t the claimed basis. It’s always some claim that the detested group has bad qualities of some kind.

1 Like

Racism, to me, often seems to be a conclusion searching for a rationale. I’m not sure the “claimed basis” counts for much. I’m not sure, however, what your claimed basis is for rejecting it as morally wrong. Factually challenged or poorly reasoned does not make something morally wrong. I am sure many morally good things can be poorly motivated, and even factually incorrect in reasoning. That alone is not enough for us to dismiss racism as morally wrong.

To be clear, especially to everyone following along, the presumption is that everyone here (including both @John_Harshman and myself) reject racism as wrong. We are discussing why and how we come to this moral conclusion.

I don’t think we have an argument here.

True. But if we assume that persecuting people without a good reason is morally wrong, removing the rationale for racism makes it morally wrong. Of course that assumption is not based on any absolute or objective morality, merely on empathy.

1 Like

I’m very glad that you (and most of our fellow humans) have a well developed sense of empathy. I’m still not sure how you can know that you are applying your empathy correctly here. Going back to the ingroup-outgroup contrast, we can (logically valid, even if morally suspect) argue that empathy for our ingroup motivates us to war against the outgroup.

Though, I would also note that you seem to be agreeing that empiricism can’t get us to recognize racism is wrong or to affirm human rights. I’m uncomfortable consigning this to “subjective”. Perhaps in disagreement with you, I think we, from an objective point of view, have human rights. We also (objectively) know that racism is wrong. It is not, however, empiricism or pre-wired empathy that gets us here though, at least not epistemologically.

It seems to me that the very existence of racist renders that view false. Perhaps you could say some more on this. How do we objectively know this, does that “we” include everyone alive today?

1 Like

I mean “we” in reference to @John_Harshman and I, not all people inclusive of racists too. There are objective facts that people reject (as should be fairly obvious). The fact that there is not yet consensus on some facts, does not make them less objective.

Okay, thanks for the clarification.

There are objective facts that people reject (as should be fairly obvious). The fact that there is not yet consensus on some facts, does not make them less objective.

I agree of course. It’s just not clear to me in what sense the wrongness of racism is an objective fact. I would join you any day in comdemning racism as wrong, but I don’t see how I could claim that to be an objective fact. Is there some sort of measurement we can do that shows this?

I await your argument for these claims.


AllenWitmerMiller’s first post in this thread is also not properly associated with it. But thanks for fixing the other one.

1 Like

In America, and really the whole English civilization, the rights of man were settled as coming from God. John Locke and company. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Its a perfect equation of our natural rights.
Any other rights are from the people , by way of their government, making new contracts.
There are no human rights except from God or from humans creating such rights. the second one means such rights must come from the people in agreement.
That and that alone is the anglo-american foundation for rights.
other peoples should copy that as otherwise the invention of rights comes from elites and has no binding authority.
John Lockes second treatis should be a Christmas gift for all mankind.

I can’t presume to speak for @swamidass , but he probably included my post when he created this thread because of this statement which became part of the OP:

Thus, the aforementioned concepts can serve as an introduction to whether one can make an empirical case for human rights. Moral philosophy is often cited as providing examples of vital truths which do not depend upon empiricism. But Dr. Swamidass has encouraged us to consider the interesting topic of whether empiricism can nevertheless be employed in making a case for human rights. It’s a natural segue, IMHO.

So are you refuting “Making the Empirical Case for Human Rights” by saying that no such empirical case can be made? Sounds like it.

1 Like

A post was merged into an existing topic: Why Did God Wait to Create the Universe?