Human Rights?

December 2007 · 1 minute read

So, I’ve been reading Foolishness to the Greeks by Lesslie Newbigin. It’s an¬†amazing book if you are at all interested in Western culture or Christianity and their interaction. The book is full of great stuff but I just wanted to point out one particularly amazing section I came across.

Medieval society was held together by a complex network of reciprocal rights and duties, and the idea of “human rights” in general, apart from this actual web of reciprocal duties and rights, would have been unintelligible. In fact…there is no way in which the idea of human rights could have been expressed in classical or medieval Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or Arabic. The idea would have been incomprehensible.

Wow! It just blew my mind how much our conceptions of rights are tied up in our culture and language. What he is saying here is that the human rights we hold so dear (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as our constitution tells us) is not just a new development from medieval thought, it’s an idea that medieval thinkers would not have been able to even express. This shows just how much culture and language shape the way we think.