In a sense I'm offering an evolutionary answer, not so much to Kant's categorical imperative, but to our ability to make sense of the signs we "emit," which Kant is just one of many to try and figure out. That is, what became human beings must have met certain "preconditions" for the transformation to come, but that transformation was a leap, that took place in a single, unpredictable, even unlikely event (that may, therefore, have something "existentialist" to it)--the emergence of the human, in a sense ex nihilo, in an event, and along with God, is what Genesis gets right. I'm not sure what "bridge" this hypothesis has trouble crossing.
@ CK MacLeod:
Yes, something like "communication" is better, but I think any use of signs will require some notion of "intention"--not in the narrow sense of "what did Keats mean to say in 'Ode to a Grecian Urn'" but in the more minimal sense of making space for others and soliciting a response. And if we can grasp another's intention there must be some sense in which we "trust" them, so signs always include some implicit references to the presumed trustworthiness of the person issuing them.
And meaning as "salvation" includes both survival and "will to power," doesn't it? And more: meaning, or our ability to live and breath through signs creates the "world," and therefore goodness and beauty as well--along, perhaps, with the uniquely human forms of evil, like envy, betrayal, malevolence for its own sake, etc.
I still think more complex forms of property rights is going to provide the answer to the third desideratum you lay down here.
@ CK MacLeod:
I think we agree here--if I can conduct such and inquiry and hence realize the need for the right to do so, then I can't exclude the possibility that anyone else might be able to do so, and so everyone must have the right. This puts things in the necessarily minimal terms. I suppose an atheist or materialist might say this would be true for any inquiry, not only one into God; but why are we able to share the process and results of inquiry in the first place? Where does the faith that we can do so, a faith without which the inquiry would be neither initiated nor continued, come from? You could probably construct an evolutionary process: "honesty," in the sense of reliably informing others of, say, sources of food and danger, was "selected for"; developing a "reputation" for "honesty" would in turn be selected for, because such a person would be protected and supported by others; finally, "honesty" in the broadest sense of a love for the truth would emerge as one of the characteristics of humankind. In the end, though, we would have to remove the scare quotes around "honesty"--since no other species has anything to do with anything like "honesty," in the sense of choosing to seek and communicate the truth (and to keep faith with others) when one could have chosen to lie (and betray that faith), we have found ourselves with a defining characteristic of humanity that had to have been "created" before it could be "selected for." And, as I take you to be saying (or at least thinking with some affinity to), that creation must have been a salvation: without discovering a way to keep faith with each other, and therefore something to keep faith in, we would not have survived.
@ CK MacLeod:
I hold this hypothesis potentially interesting: All valid human rights can be derived directly from the presumptions underlying the inquiry.
Because if we undertake, in the spirit of genuine inquiry, to discover the source of rights we will find that first of all we need the right to such an inquiry (in order to protect such a spirit)?
@ Rex Caruthers:
OK, in that case, I disagree with the suggestion that we have not overcome scapegoating--of course, we repeatedly lapse back into that very powerful tendency and perhaps we always will--but the cultural pulls in the other direction are also powerful and equally real (and not merely "superficial" or "thin veener").
@ Rex Caruthers:
Not letting us be what we want--let be the thing we want, that is, the object on which our desires (each one's desire spurred on by everyone else's) converge.
It's been a while (I remember them showing us the movie in school, who knows why) but isn't "The Lottery" a story of a community that uses a public, collectively enacted slaughter of a scapegoat, selected randomly, to preserve the community (in their own minds, at least)? The anthropological insight is strong, the ethical one less so, if the suggestion is that that is what we are really always doing anyway, so why not be honest about it? I might be misreading it, though--like I said, it was a long time ago, and I didn't actually read the story. I do have some clear memories of the movie, after many decades, so it must have made some impact.
@ Rex Caruthers:
OK, if I understand you, I might endorse this formulation--the implication, then, is that "God" need be nothing more than the collective bestowal of meaning (on reality, on being, on us) through deferral, through all of us letting be the thing we all want, so that we can create a process of sharing it in an orderly way. I'm personally not a believer in any conventional sense, but I think Judaism and Christianity (and probably other religions of which I know less) understand this anthropological insight far better than atheism--and they probably convey it better than my (or, really, Eric Gans's) more theoretical discussion could.
@ CK MacLeod:
Yes, very good, enough to keep the discussion going--thanks. The taboo is some unspeakable violence (unspeakable because we wouldn't survive it) that we have averted and continue to avert. Of course, at a certain point, the methods of aversion themselves become a new source of violence, requiring a new event and taboo. My historical argument is that Judaism, Christianity and modern liberalism trace a fairly rare upward trajectory, one in which the taboos are less and less ritualistic and more and more based on transparent processes of distinguishing innocent from guilty. That's when it becomes possible to theorize rights located "in" the individual.
Believing that rights have a transcendent basis has nothing to do with believing that people are always good, that rights never get violated, or that economists never revise their theories or seek to influence public policy. If one is outraged that an injustice was done at Ruby Ridge, or in Chile, or by Israel offering nukes to S. Africa, why, exactly? Why the outrage--what makes it something other than as esthetic judgment, or the joining of a mob of those similarly outraged?
@ Rex Caruthers:
Let me put it this way--there is a better chance we will all agree that someone who wrote an editorial the President doesn't like shouldn't be taken out and shot than that we will agree on any chain of reasoning justifying rights. Even those who have never really thought about it will be horrified by an extra-juridical killing based on disagreement. Why? If there's no intuition regarding transcendent truths, what is it--conditioning?
@ CK MacLeod:
Real quick (and more later): either the rights are absolute and prior to all discussion (including, of course, discussion on how to interpret and ensure those rights); of the granting of rights is a result of a process of reasoning, in which case reason can determine that other things may be more important than rights (social unity, efficiency, economic growth, etc.) I think the first approach is the only viable one, even though it will be violated repeatedly in tha name of all those other imperatives. We need to recognize them as violations, though. And that's part of the reason why I start with emergency conditions--we know what rights are when they are violated; we have rights because certain actions of other people and governments could be noticed and named as "violations." Grounding rights in God is a way of emphasizing the first, "absolutist" approach--otherwise, if we want to support that first approach, we would end up using words like "sacred" and "inviolable" anyway--we would just say we are using those terms metaphorically, even though I don't think that would be the case. If "rights" is just a way of referring to the way reasonable people should treat each other--well, reasonable people can disagree.
@ CK MacLeod:
It's a thought experiment meant to suggest the impossibility of denying freedom: if a strict determinist were being tortured, he would be unable to deny that he might not be tortured, i.e., that the torturer is free to do otherwise.
Regarding your response to Rex, yes, my outcry would be much more succinct--that's my point, "we are endowed by our creater," etc., is the declarative reformulation of what is really a more intuitive or "ostensive" grasp of our rights. A declaration of independence or constitutional can't exclaim "I've got rights!", but that's the sense its encoding and institutionalizing. Now, you might say that the declarative formulation comes first--that I can cry out "I've got rights!" because I live in a society with a Constitution guaranteeing them. In a sense that's true, if we approach it very literally--the word "right," in the sense of limits on government power has a history, of course, and didn't always exist. But in any social order, even the most tyrannical (part of the horror of totalitarianism is that it tries to push to the limits here), there are things "you can't do to me." Those kinds of forbidden violence are themselves embedded in rituals and customs but the rituals and customs must have emerged because of the sense that those kinds of violence risked embroiling everyone in catastrophic violence. Ultimately, we discover these "ultimate" forms of violence and we are created as a community through the discovery--it's a paradox: those "rights" wouldn't be there without us (of course), but we don't simply invent them either. There is a real sense in which we "discover" them and in that way become who we are.
It might be fine if pretty much everyone saw things the way Rex does, but I think he's missing something. I think the "no atheists in foxholes" argument holds for rights as well, and suggests they possess what we might call a "sacred" character. If the movement to return to asset based currencies picks up steam to the point where the powers-that-be start rounding up the ringleaders, when they knock on Rex's door I think it is less likely that he will say something like "your behavior is inconsistent with the treatment required for a civilized society to continue" and more likely that he will say something a bit more along the lines of "you can't do this--I have rights!" And, furthermore, I think he will believe it, and not just see it as a reasonable and socially beneficial belief.
Hannah Arendt took from Duns Scotus the following "proof" of freedom: let those who deny freedom be tortured until they admit it is possible that they not be tortured. It is impossible to be marked for violence without believing (even if only fleetingly) that it is both wrong and could be otherwise. There are, undoubtedly, many idioms in which this belief can be expressed, but I think any of them will lead us to something transcendent. In each community there is a tacit understanding that certain kinds of violence risk tearing the community apart; in our society, for all kinds of reasons, the kind of violence that is the riskiest is that directed at the scapegoated, innocent individual. Rights are a way of reducing that kind of violence to a minimum, but for that to work we must believe in the sanctity of those rights, not just think they are a pretty good idea, to be weighed against other good ideas. And I am suggesting that we all do believe in them--disbelieving in them is the hard work, the work requiring abstruse theories and rationalizations.