Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Sexually Explicit Materials and the Internet, by Douglas Birsch

Alan Gewirth Demonstration of Human Rights

Gewirth's argument, so far, has tried to establish the rights to freedom and well-being as rights which it would be prudent for agents to claim. In order to show that they are human rights, Gewirth must demonstrate that each agent must admit that all other humans have these rights merely because they are human beings. He suggests that the rights are human rights since agents must logically accept that they have these rights simply because they are prospective agents who have purposes to fulfill. A, in claiming rights, must recognize that B has the same rights since B fulfills the same sufficient condition for having rights as A. If A is operating as a rational agent, he or she must realize it would be inconsistent not to extend the same rights to B. Therefore, all agents have the rights to freedom and well-being, and these rights qualify as human rights. 8

Gewirth must also show that these human rights are moral rights, which for him, means that they are grounded in or justified by a valid moral principle. His reasoning begins from the earlier point that every agent on pain of self-contradiction, must accept the generalization that all agents have the generic rights to freedom and well-being. From this, it follows that every person ought to refrain from interfering with the freedom and well-being of all other agents, and under some circumstances they ought to assist other agents to obtain freedom and well- being. He declares that:

Since to refrain and to assist in these ways is to act in such a way that one's actions are in accord with the generic rights of one's recipients, every agent is logically committed, on pain of self-contradiction, to accept the following precept: Act in accord with the generic rights of your recipients as well as of yourself. 9

Gewirth calls this the Principle of Generic Consistency (PGC), and claims that the rights to freedom and well-being are moral rights because they are justified by this valid moral principle. He adds that, "The PGC is the supreme principle of morality because its interpersonal requirements, derived from the generic features of action, cannot be rationally evaded by any agent." 10 Therefore, the rights to freedom and well-being are not only human rights, but also moral rights. This brief summary of Gewirth's justification of human rights shows the major steps in his argument and illustrates a second basic way to justify the claim that there are human rights.

Next, I'd like to discuss a human rights view --of obscene materials.

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