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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Human Rights and an Ecological Conception of the Self

Jorge M. Valadez.

In this essay I advocate grounding human rights on a natural and social ecological conception of the self. In contrast to predominant philosophical views of the person as an abstract, autonomous, independent, self-sufficient being, this ecological view situates individuals within the rich and varied contexts in which they actually exist. This ecological conception emphasizes three main features of the self.
1. Its biological nature and embeddedness . We are not the abstract beings of traditional political philosophy; rather, we are beings with basic biological needs and connections to an environment.
2. Its membership in situated communities. People are socially situated in communities and have numerous interdependencies and mutual obligations. Particularly at childhood and old age, we depend on others for our development and well-being. Because dependence is a universal and unavoidable aspect of the human life-cycle, the strength and health of our communities is crucial for individual and collective flourishing.
3. Its reliance on cultural traditions. Human beings seek sources of meaning in historically and culturally grounded traditions. A common language, religion, or history, as well as shared practices and values, are examples of collective experiences important for human flourishing.
In the free market-democratic neoliberal model that has attained global dominance, democratic, civil, and restricted property rights are granted pride of place, while the above-mentioned rights, while sometimes recognized formally, are rarely recognized and implemented. Human rights should be based on a holistic vision that is truly conducive to self-realization.


Jorge M. Valadez  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Philosophy Faculty
Our Lady of the Lake University

I was born in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 6. I received my PhD in philosophy from Yale University in 1991. My primary interest is in social and political philosophy. I am writing a three-volume work on the philosophical foundations of multiculturalism. The first volume of this series has already been published.

  • Human Rights
  • Ecology
  • Cultural Rights

(30 min Conference Paper, English)