Saintly Thoughts

On the Nature of Human Goods

I have written elsewhere about the impossibility of enshrining all human goods in the language of human rights, because goods are often incommensurate with one another and such a policy would be logically unsustainable.   I am presuming that there is a means by which we can rationally segregate the concept of a human right from the concept of a human good.  I believe that we can make such a distinction.  A right is that which preexists the power of the state or other governing entity to actualize such a right (at least this is the language of the enlightenment rights theorists) and derives its efficacy from the hypothetical power of an individual to self-actualize such a right without state intervention (at least in theory).  I've always liked this distinction because it places the concept of right squarely within the ontological condition of the human person qua person and on the power of that person to perceive and develop this sense of right.  It's essentially a natural law principle by other means.  I like it, but I wonder if it is true or if it is rather a clever chimera.  For these same thinkers who espouse such an ontological condition for the concept of right as deriving from the ontological state of the human person qua person depend on the obviously a-historical construct of the pre-social human animal, that is, the human person in the state of nature.  That this is a "just-so story" is rather obvious, for unless I am mistaken, mere powers of mind and thought are not enough to whisk one back to the very beginning of man's creation.  So the question I ask is, can we take seriously the idea that right (as conceived by the great enlightenment social thinkers) as distinct from goods is derivable from the ontological condition arising from the power principles at play in the human person's interactions with the world?  If this bubble is burst, might we have to give up on both the good and the right as distinct categories, and start anew with our critique of the correct balance of goods within a human society?  The advantage of rights language is that it appeared to provide a basis for human striving prior to and apart from the particularities apparent in human religious practices, thus providing a principled means by which pluralism might arise.  Again, a very attractive idea.  But what if it isn't true?  What if the principles which have allowed religiously neutral pluralistic regimes (i.e. societies which agree to internally disagree on first principles concerning the nature of the good life) were in fact older religious concepts disguised to appear as though they were non-sectarian.  If this is true, then there is no such thing as an ontologically neutral concept of right any more than there is one of good, and we are thrust back into the world of doctrinal particularity.  This is a troubling thought, to say the least.   It brings into question much that has been mostly taken for granted.