|Author||David N. Stamos|
|Category||Politics and Sociology|
In this extensive book, Canadian philosopher of science David N. Stamos presents an extensive review of the history and interpretations of universal human rights, as well as his personal view on the topic. His thesis is that the existence of universal human rights is a modern myth that has spread as a “meme”, the cultural analogue of a gene. He argues for a sounder moral system which would be based on our human nature at it evolved in our genes.
The first Chapter is a comprehensive summary of the book.
In Chapter 2, the author explains why the existence of universal human rights is a modern myth that derives from the wishful thinking of the postmodernist ideology.
Chapter 3 is a critical examination of the several beliefs in universal human rights defended by modern philosopher and social scientists.
In Chapter 4, the author explains why the modern concept of universal human rights did not originate in ancient sources, such as the Bible, the Quran, ancient Greek philosophical writings or medieval texts, which only contained some remote predecessors of the concept.
In Chapter 5, he provides his views on the origin of universal human rights, which he traces to the English Levellers of 1640s London and a few decades later to the writings of John Locke. He then reviews how the concept developed in the West and then spread to the world in our modern days.
Chapter 6 develops the view that the concept of universal human rights spread as a “meme”, the cultural analogue of a gene conceived by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and that it evolved in symbiosis with the belief in democracy.
Finally, in Chapter 7, Stamos proposes a new way of dealing with moral issues, which he bases on the moral instincts that were engraved in our genes through the course of human evolution as evidenced by evolutionary psychology. He then shows how to apply his new value system to a few topics such as abortion, affirmative action and waterboarding.
Globally this book is innovative, well constructed and convincing, and the author demonstrates a thorough command of the topic. Although he bases his thinking on science, Stamos is a philosopher and therefore devotes a lot of his book to extensive philosophic argumentation, which I found boring. Being a scientist, I would have liked to read more about the evolutionary argumentation. This may be why I found this book too lengthy – I would have learned just about enough by reading only the Preface, Chapter 1 and Chapter 7.
I also found two shortcomings in this book:
1. The author does not consider that the modern concept of universal human rights might not be fully applicable as stated – which could explain why it is actually not thoroughly applied even in countries that advocate it passionately.
2. As many evolutionary psychologists do, he implies that our current moral instincts were only acquired during our equalitarian hunter-gatherer past, neglecting that they are likely to have significantly evolved since, especially when human societies became more complex and hierarchical.
If I were a philosopher, I might have rated this book 5 stars. But being a scientist with a strong interest in evolutionary psychology and little in philosophical discussions, and given above shortcomings, I feel like rating it 3 stars. Hence my averaged rating of 4 stars.