I want to re-emphasize the structure of my discussion about secular accounts of human rights. The project of trying to ground human rights is the project of trying to find what it is about human beings that gives each and every one a dignity sufficient for their possessing human rights. I hold that Kantian-style accounts are entirely adequate for grounding the rights of those human beings who have the capacity to engage in rational action, the capacity to form, follow, and revise life-plans, or whatever. There has been some discussion in the philosophical literature recently pointing out that persons have this capacity to different degrees, and that, consequently, this capacity does not secure equality of worth. I do not see that this is a problem for the grounding of human rights; so long as everybody has a certain minimum of worth, that should be enough.
I observed in the book that all the “secular” accounts with which I am familiar are capacity accounts; and that any capacity account is confronted with the problem that there will always be some human beings who do not have the capacity. (I observed that all extant imago dei accounts have the same problem,) In Chapter 16 I myself then proposed a secular account that is not a capacity account. Suppose one is willing to accept that there is human nature, whatever one’s ontology of the matter. Then even the most severely impaired human being will have human nature. Is perhaps the mere possession of human nature sufficient for grounding the necessary worth?
My guess is that people will divide in how they answer this question. Think of human nature as rather like the design-plan for an automobile. What would one say about an automobile whose design-plan was truly excellent but which, through various misfortunes, is now incurably inoperative? Would one treasure this inoperative exemplar on account of its superb design-plan? I would not. But I would not be surprised to learn that others would. By analogy, they would say that even the most impaired human being is of great worth just on account of possessing human nature. And that would then be a secular account that, as they see it, is adequate. This is in fact the account that Jonathan Kahn offers in passing in his response to my response to him; “possessing human nature” is enough, he says.
Apart from the capacities accounts and this human nature account, I don’t see any other secular accounts on the horizon. But who knows, another type altogether might turn up. Chambers says that the Kantians must surely have an answer to the questions I raised concerning capacity accounts, since they have always regarded Kant’s capacity account as adequate for human beings in general. (Allen Wood raises the issues without giving a definitive answer.) I would like to learn how a successful Kantian account would go (it might prove to be a variant on the human nature account that I mentioned above).
Contrary to Chambers’ suspicions, I very much want there to be available not only an adequate theistic account but also an adequate secular account. The melancholy character of my ruminations in the final chapter could then be dismissed as irrelevant.
Am I (perhaps) a good philosopher but a bad citizen, as Chambers’ title and subsequent discussion suggests? I will leave it to others to answer both questions. What I will say is that I join with all those who struggle for justice to the wronged, whatever their reasons or motivations.