Sympathy and Human Relations
one agree on a principle that can serve as the basis for the
establishment of genuine peace and harmony in the world? Some people
think that if the whole world became good Muslims or good Christians
it would create true brotherhood and sisterhood. Now, considering
that both groups comprise more than a billion each (Islam in its
various sectarian forms is given as 1.3 billion and Christianity 1.9
billion) converting one to the other may take a very long time.
we would still have 650 million Confucians (mainly Chinese), 700 million
Hindus (including the upper castes, the other backward castes and the
scheduled castes and tribes), 400 million Buddhists, 20 million Sikhs, 13
million Jews and then smaller groups such as the Bahais, Ahmadis, Jains,
animists (if any have been allowed to survive) and others who have no
specific religious affiliation or who choose to denounce their religious
beliefs. To make humanity as a whole adhere to one comprehensive religious
faith with its doctrines and dogmas is impossible.
need not be very clever to realise that we will have to find a principle
that does not require total conversion of people to a particular belief or
detailed code of conduct in order to establish mutually respectful
relations among all groups and individuals within them.
very often tend to believe that within groups strong emotional bonds and
ties of solidarity exist. This is a myth and has always been a myth.
Except for very small communities comprising a few households close
contact between people does not take place and when it does it is not
always friendly and deeply loyal. We therefore need a principle which is
simple and practical and one that everyone can accept as fair on the basis
of which the foundations of mutual respect and peace can be laid.
German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) proposed the 'Categorical
Imperative' as the overarching principle that can serve such a purpose.
The categorical imperative says that one should act only on those rules of
action that one wants to be made universal laws. It would declare as
immoral a rule of conduct that implies that one person may do something
but another, in similar circumstances, may not. In other words, it demands
consistency. In other words, what's alright for me is alright for you if
our relevant circumstances are similar.
one cannot legitimately demand a ban on one religion without demanding the
same for other religions, but one is perfectly justified in demanding that
human rights violations should not occur in the name of religion and that
should apply to all religions. Similarly if I can occupy someone's home
then it is alright for the other bloke to try to do the same. But of
course I would not want him to do that, so it would be wrong for me to do
categorical imperative also states that one should treat humanity or
rational beings as an end and never as a means only. Human beings are
uniquely capable of reasoning about their choices and therefore are
inherently valuable and worthy of respect for this reason. For human
beings to realise their inner worth it is important that they enjoy
meaningful autonomy vis-à-vis state and society. Autonomy makes it
possible for us to make rationally and morally correct choices, which
according to Kant is all about protection of our basic interests.
such a principle were to be made not only on the basis of conduct between
human beings but also states then the occupation of Iraq by President Bush
and his allies would not take place. On the other hand, it would be
perfectly correct to wage war on those who are responsible for 9/11. The
categorical imperative is not a one-sided application of a principle. It
requires that everyone complies with it in their own interest.
others argue against rationality alone as the basis for claiming and
enjoying rights on grounds that there are human beings who are not able to
reason in accordance with a conventional understanding of rationality.
These include children and those suffering from impairment of their
reasoning abilities. Also, not very long ago women, working people, and
some ethnic and racial groups were also considered incapable of acting
like rational human beings.
emphasis on rationality is, therefore, not the true basis of rights. It
can confine the right to enjoy rights arbitrarily to some groups or class
of people. Therefore, it is asserted, that the true basis of peace among
human beings has to be human sympathy and solidarity, or in other words,
the human conscience.
along such lines some argue that the right to rights should not be
confined to the Homo sapiens: animals and nature should also be embraced
because specie-ism (that is privileging one's own species) is irrational
and immoral. Moreover, it is argued, from a practical point of view that
humankind's supremacy over other forms of nature is untenable in the long
run. We have to learn to live as part of nature and in communion with it.
people go further and urge that we have to start working on this principle
now. Global warming is the wakeup call we must heed and change our
lifestyles to recognise that human beings, animals and nature in general
have to live in communion and harmony with each other. Thus, the age of
rights has to be re-defined in the light of the objective reality around
philosophers are extending the theoretical horizons and frontiers of
discussion on rights in directions which are as yet unclear, but I would
argue that concern for the rights of human beings and the organisations
and institutions that represent their interests should remain of paramount
concern because even if a paradigmatic shift from the rights of human
beings to the all-inclusive idea of the rights of different forms of
nature may be on the way, it need not be seen as a mutually exclusive
we think about who should and who should not have rights is after all
dependent on the human conscience because neither animals nor other forms
of nature are burdened with the problem of being at ease with one's
conscience. It is a human predicament and not a predicament of all living
things or for that matter of nature.
article was first published in the News
International. The author is a visiting
senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS),
National University of Singapore on leave from the University of
Stockholm. Email: email@example.com.