Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Selfhood and Human Rights

We express our own individuality through the word ‘I’. Without an ‘I’, there is no moral freedom, no distinction between good and evil, and thus no politics either. But what exactly is this individuality, which we normally refer to as ‘I’? The ‘I’ must clearly be distinguished from its ‘possessions’. I ‘have’ a body, a gender, and a native language. I experience pleasure and pain. I have memories and ambitions. However, the word ‘I’ makes it clear that I am not all of this – but can place myself as subject in distinction to it. To begin with, then, the word ‘I’ indicates a kind of void, an empty space. This void is identical in all humans – as identical as only two voids can be. In this fact we discover the objective basis for the principle of equal rights, for equality before the law, regardless of any differences people possess. People have differences, but people are equal. However, the ‘I’ is not a ‘no-thing’. Like the ‘superposition of quantum theory, the human ‘I’ is a void full of potential, of expectancy and creative power; it is the emptiness of the moral will, before that moral will has yet brought forth a moral judgement. What lies dormant in the void is the as yet undifferentiated capacity for involvement. The human ‘I’ is nothing other than the manifestation of involvement in the world. And it is precisely involvement that distinguishes freedom from licence. Without involvement, I am as free as an astronaut who alone, and with nothing to hold onto, tumbles slowly around his or her centre of gravity in the weightlessness of space. The astronaut can perform voluntary movements, but cannot affect the position of his or her centre of gravity relative to other objects, because all connection to the surrounding world has been severed. If I do not get involved with other people, even the most exalted deed will not touch me internally; it will leave me ‘disconnected’. Without commitment and involvement, I am not free to change. Only by virtue of my involvement do I change myself through what I do.

Verhulst, J., & Nijeboer, A. (2007). Direct Democracy: Facts and Arguments about the Introduction of Initiative and Referendum. pages 37-38. Democracy International, Brussels.

Thanks to John Noyce for sending me this. Check out his blog: http://www.historye.blogspot.com/

It's interesting that the question of selfhood - once left to mystics and philosophers - is now seen as worth inquiry by scientists, and even legislators.

1 comment:

Charles Wildbank said...

Jeronimus, an earlier post showed a beautiful golden Buddha hand holding wreath of fine flowers. I would love to have rights to use that photo. Who owns the photo and whom may I contact? Thanks!