Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights

Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights

HUNT 2- Introduction and Chapter 1

How does Hunt answer her question posed on the top of p. 19: “How did  . . . men, living in societies built on slavery, subordination, and seeming natural subservience, ever come to imagine men not at all like them and, in some cases, women too, as equals?” (I am not asking you to read the whole book yet; she gives a preliminary answer to the question on pp. 26-34.)

In her introduction, Hunt asks, “How did these men, living in societies built on slavery, subordination, and seeming natural subservience, ever come to imagine men not at all like them and, in some cases, women too, as equals?” (19). The method that allowed men to imagine others who were quite different from themselves as equals, or rather the method that eventually facilitated this ability to imagine, was emotional appeal. Emotional appeal or empathy (the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes) has the ability to breakdown the worst and most strongly held prejudices. The way that empathy spread throughout society was through writing and literacy. In particular, reading novels, especially those that showed the interior lives of their characters, allowed people from different backgrounds, genders, and classes to connect with each other (or rather allowed wealthy men and women to connect and see poorer people, like their servants, as people with the same feelings and emotions and desires as themselves).

HUNT 3 – Introduction and Chapter 1

According to Hunt, how did 18th-century individuals come to think of human rights as “self-evident”? She says emotions had much to do with it. How so? And what did the concept of individual “autonomy” have to do with it?

In examining “the paradox of self-evidence,” Hunt argues that understanding the notion of self-evidence, which is crucial to understanding the concept of human rights, “gives rise to a paradox: if equality of rights is so self-evident, then why did this assertion have to be made and why was it only made in specific times and places?” (19). Hunt points out that “human rights only become meaningful when they gain political content” (21). However, during the 18th century, both in England and France, notions of human rights were all too general “to be of direct political use” (23). As a result, these ideas were mainly used to distinguish humans from the divine and from animals, rather than establish “politically relevant rights such as freedom of speech or the right to participate in politics” (23). The way that 18th-century individuals come to think of human rights as “self-evident” is through the rise of empathy which came from reading novels. Novels like Rousseau’s Julie and Richardson’s Pamela presented middle class heroines struggling with inner turmoil. This novels experienced great popularity, facilitating a rise in empathy. People who didn’t otherwise see the interiority of middle class people suddenly realized that other people, who were otherwise quite different from them, shared their basic desires, passions, hopes, etc. These ideas created notions of individuality and individual autonomy.

HUNT 4 – Introduction and Chapter 1

What role did novels and novel reading play in the formation of a belief in human rights? What does Hunt mean when she claims that a certain kind of novel “taught their readers nothing less than a new psychology” (39)?

Novels showed aristocrats and everyday middle-class literate people that the desires for love and virtue, and the basic hopes that all human beings have, cross class and national lines. The novel, especially the epistolary novel, showed the interior lives of characters. Reading about the interior lives of characters allowed people to connect with people whom they would be otherwise unable to know so intimately (such as their servants). Hunt says that a certain kind of novel (the epistolary novel) “taught their readers nothing less than a new psychology.” What she means by this statement is that these novels allowed people to see others, who were very different from them on the surface, as a lot more similar. The similarities created empathy and allowed people to understand one another. In other words, these novels gave them access to the interior lives of strangers, making them not so strange after all.

HUNT 1- Introduction and Chapter 1

What suggestive comments does Hunt make about Rousseau and Condorcet in the early pages of her Introduction?

In the early pages of her Introduction, Hunt discusses the “rights of man” and how our notion of human rights came from this idea. She notes that Condorcet was the first philosopher to tackle this issue, of defining human rights. In particular, he stated that the concept of the rights of man consisted of “security of person, security of property, impartial and fair justice, and the right to contribute to the formulation of the laws” (Hunt 24). To Hunt, Rousseau’s reasoning and language are less defined and precise and she is particularly critical of the inconsistency in his argument. As Rene pointed out, Rousseau states that “humans may be citizens and humans may be sovereigns but citizens are not sovereigns and not all humans enjoyed the rights of citizenship (women, slaves).”

2 thoughts on “Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights

  1. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m happy that you shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

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