domenica 27 gennaio 2013

From “right” to “human”: Human Rights through the Philosophical Anthropology’s gaze

by Giacomo Pezzano (; II of 3)

III. Welcome to HN!

This requires at least two steps: 1) to synthesize skeptically the main criticisms of HR (deconstruction); 2) to test the possibility to describe the foundation of HN through PA (reconstruction).
1. Since their first introduction, HR generated a “reactive” critic, which can be resumed in three main “souls”, which are certainly interconnected but could be analytically separated.
1.1. “Nominalistic” criticism. HR – since De Maistre and Burke – would be a mere coercive abstraction of partial ideological interests or of idealistic conception of Man, and lead to the cancellation of what they are supposed to guarantee: the freedom and the uniqueness of the individuals: HR are WASP’s rights, and there is no Man, rather only men [Deleuze-Guattari 2010; Stirner 1999; Vaj 1985].
Human-Nature Number Thirteen
James W. Johnson
1.2. “Political” criticism. HR are a imperialistic, capitalistic and military instrument of oppression and “exportation” of democracy: HR are the «centre de gravité idéologique» founded on a «dogme», that is, an ideological prothesis to economic and geopolitical interests, the new religion of our present [De Benoist  2004; Zolo 2000; 2009; Preterossi 2011].
1.3. “Theoretical” criticism. HR follow an “exclusive” and “immunitarian” biopolitical dispositive in order to define a threshold which separates “animality” from “humanity” both inside every single human being and across the whole “corpus” of society and mankind: there could be no human rights at all, there is only the right of every living being to exist and express itself and its capacities [Agamben 1995; 2002; 2003; Deleuze 2005; Esposito 2002; 2004; 2007; Esposito-Rodotà 2007].
2. To mitigate, at one hand, a radical juridicalism-formalism and, at the other hand, an “anti”humanism, that is unsatisfying both theoretically (how can we deny the existence of human specific – not thus special – features at all?) and practically (how can we separate the ideological “fall out” of the concept of HR from its truth value if we erase it at all?) [Ignatieff 2003], we should 1) describe some characteristic features of the human animal and 2) re-examine the conception and the practicability of the human right as right to education.
2.1. According to PA, if other animals live in an immediate relationship with a specific environment, the human animal lives in a mediate relationship with the world as such. Developing this basic intuition, if animal Umweltgebundenheit is immediately governed and determined by the genetic endowment, human Weltoffenheit is the “countermelody” of a regressive movement of genetic behaviours, paradoxically parallel to a “complexification” and “hyperformalization” of the biological datum that opens up to its own transcending. Talking about instinct, «modules», or complexity of HN is talking about an innate potential factor that needs to be specified/determined through learning and education. If it is true that (wo)man is so complex that no genome can control and direct every single step of her/his development, and the action of genes does a lot, but it cannot regulate everything, then, synthesizing the results of the research of the neurosciences and biology, we can say that (s)he is specialized in the non-specificity, having a) a plastic brain set up to experiencing (the brain needs to grow up and maturate, especially the cerebral cortex, cytologically all cortical neurons are differentiated and lie in their final topographical position at birth, but their dendrites are only poorly developed and only a basic set of interconnections are already established) and b) a generic naked body open to motor learning (one principal characteristic of the prolongation of the human body growth period up to the end of puberty is the extended ability of the locomotor system to acquire new patterns of movements), namely that (s)he is programmed for learning/being educated/education.
The most remarkable feature of the biological evolution of human is the fact that human newborns are strongly retarded in the biological development of their locomotor and behavioural capabilities: the human newborn is a “supportling” which depends on overall care and supply by the others and needs a long-term development that is no longer determined biologically and genetically in its contents, but only by the socio-cultural conditions and the continuous interactions of the developing child and youth with its social community. For these social and cultural developments, the body provides the framework in form of its functional capabilities, which are determined biologically-genetically. In this way, the specific time table of the growth of the body and its brain supports only the capacity for all the occuring functional developments at specific time schedules, but this somatic development of the body does not determine the social and cultural form and meaning of these functions. Special features of the biologically developed functional capacities determine or limit only the width of the ranges in which the social and cultural functions and abilities can be learned or adapted: for human beings, the ontogenetic socio-cultural development is a biological necessity [Duncker 2000].
In this perspective, the dualism nurture/culture disappears: history and biology are all in one with HN. Therefore, the question becomes if a philosophical interpretation of the scientific datum may support the assertion that (wo)man is/has “generic nature” (Gattungswesen), neither degender nor genetic [i.e. Cimatti 2011a; 2011b; Gilbert 2005; Gould 1977; Mascie Taylor-Barry 1995; Ridley 2005].
This “singular-plural” concept can bind the unity of HN to the plurality of its unforeseeable ways of realization. In fact, against the pervasive idea of genetic determinism – that we are our genes –, we should remember that in our lives several scenarios might come true: under normal circumstances, all of our basic anatomy and physiology, eye colour, height, intelligence and basic personal traits, are ingrained in our DNA sequences, but this is not to say that our genomes dictate our lives, that our genes unconditionally determine any characteristics of our organism (genes do not dictate what we believe, what political values we have, what occupation we pursue, what clothing we wear or what we eat for breakfast!). Our talents have many opportunities to nurture themselves and develop in novel ways: these are paradoxical gifts of our genomic endowment, because more than a static information store, our genomes are dynamic, tightly-regulated collections of genes, which switch on and off in many combinations. No behaviour would be possible were it not for our biological constitution, but our capacity to change with circumstance demonstrates that biology is not our complete story: from the start of our lives, we are moving beyond nature, and our transcendence of natural determination is our most striking natural trait. We do not know what our nature permits us to be: it does not answer the question of what it means to be a human being, or dictate what it is that we should become, but it is our nature that dictate us that we should become. It does not tell us how to be(come), but it tells us that we have to be(come) what we are, human – to learn it [i.e. Changeux 2007; Dennett 2004; Frey-Störmer-Willführ 2011; Gove-Russel Carpenter 1982; Grunwald-Gutmann-Neumann-Held 2002; Lewontin 1993; Noble 2006; Richerson-Boyd 2008; Roof 2007].
If this is true, we can try to set up and give a first answer to the question “how can be thought HR according to HN?”.
2.2. Defining the HN in terms of potentiality and genericity means defining HR in terms of “right to the potentiality”, that is – according to the aristotelian-marxian Martha Nussbaum’s approach [1998; 1995; 1997; 1999; 2002; 2011a; Glover-Nussbaum 1995] –, of right to the capabilities (to be/do/think/feel etc.), considered as the constitutive parts of development. HR are (wo)man-given: this means being given under the vest of “to do” and “to be done”. Human beings don’t automatically have the opportunity to perform their human function in a fully human way, so that the ground of every possible HR is the right to the relationship with the world, to be open to the world: in more “institutional” terms, the right to the education (RE) [UDHR, art. 26]. In fact, if we need to protect the capacities and their exercise as well, and being (wo)man means not only be able to be a (wo)man but be one, it is also true that – according to the PA – without “training” and learning there is no possibility to become a (wo)man: human beings are creatures such that, provided with the right educational and material support, they can become fully capable of their human functions. If people are to become capable of functioning well, education must be instituted, and not only for the initial development of capabilities in the young, but also for their maintenance during adulthood. Capabilities are developed by education, and HN itself is a matter of education, so that the only “human question” is the question of the education, of the paideia [Jaeger 2003; Nussbaum 2011b]: being human means cultivating humanity, educating and shaping the faculty to develop capacities, abilities, preferences, interests and so on – namely, the freedom to pursue different functioning combinations, an overall capability set.
If on one side it is intrinsically good for humans to be and do in certain ways and to have the freedom to so functioning, to be above the threshold that enables them to so function, and if it is perfectly true that functionings, not simply capabilities, are what render a life fully human, on the other side education seems to be the unique fundament of this possibility: there could not be any specific right or capacity – that is, any “flourishing” – without e-ducation, without a process aimed to conduct out a potential and realize it actively and consciously. The innate proneness to education is the necessary basis and instrument for developing any more advanced capability, but we need to stimulate, incite and promote this inclination – to encourage and nourish with institutions, laws, politics and so on. To justify something as a fundamental right is to identify a human feature as basic, that is, as intrinsically and supremely good: according to this, education is intrinsically and supremely good because it is the ground and condition of possibility of every single specific good action, experience, function, capacity, etc. Typically human rights are thought to derive from some actual feature of human persons, some untrained power in them that demands or calls for support from the world: the ground – the human root – of this power is the possibility and necessity to learn, educate and being educated, to develop a specific ability or power – of education as precondition to every specific actual feature, functioning or power. Education is the only way to support and guarantee the development and the possess of all the important capabilities which have been defined and proposed (as life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses imagination and thought, emotion, practical reason, play, political and material control over environment, etc.), and to afford all the problems which are most involved in HR (as poverty, well-being, sustainability, etc. [Pogge 2007; 2008]): it is – as the UNESCO emphasizes – essential for the exercise of all other HR, and promotes individual freedom and empowerment; an inhuman or subhuman life is a life in which one is unable to develop and exercise one’s human powers.

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