The heart of Michael Perry's argument lies in his claim that “every human being is sacred” and, that being the case, it follows that there are “some things that ought never (for example, under any circumstances or conditions) to be done to any human being or some things that ought always (under all conditions) to be done for every human being?” The “foundational” claim is that every human being, because sacred, is owed a certain regard and that this regard, in our time, has taken shape as, and congealed around, the idea of human rights. The dignity of the person, in other words, is a necessary prior assumption from which rights derive. The ontological claim, or to put it in a similar if not identical way, certain anthropological presuppositions, necessarily ground any sustainable human rights argument. It is possible, certainly, to make human rights claims on purely conventional grounds or, in more “Rortyesque” language, as just the way we do things around here. But that claim is not sustainable over time, argues Perry. It follows that “there is no intelligible (much less persuasive) secular version of the conviction that every human being is sacred; the only intelligible versions are religious.”
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