Virtue and Human Rights. Do your actions have moral worth?

The topic of Human Rights, is a very interesting and broad one. Despite many efforts in history to create and protect universal human rights, there are still a number of issues that arise with this topic. Billions of people today and through out history, have experienced first hand, the violation of their human rights. Whether this be through lack of basic needs such as food and water, through a direct threat to liberty and life, or thru an indirect manner. The truth is we are all at risk.

According to Nichomachean ethics, there are three basic principles that must be met in order for our actions to have moral worth:

  1. An action has moral worth if it is done by a person exhibiting virtue (arête).
  2. An action has moral worth if it based on one’s practical wisdom (phronesis).
  3. An action has moral worth if it is based on the person’s happiness (eudemonia).


A person’s ability to assist those in need and to protect their human rights; while maintaining a balance at dong so; is a virtue. Past experiences, opportunities to applying empirical observation in various circumstances, and sometimes, even employment, could very likely lead to a lifetime of practical wisdom acquisition.

According to ethics, in an effort to be considered a virtuous person, one must have a true motive for helping others. In addition, the protection of human rights and equality, as well as passion and knowledge for helping others, are characteristics that work towards one common goal: self eudemonia and the happiness of the general population, specially of those in need. In other words, these actions demonstrate that a persons’ actions have moral worth.

In addition to the humanitarian classification, the above acts can be categorized under what once used to be referred to as the Natural Rights Theory. This theory, holds that humans have absolute, natural rights (in the sense of universal rights that are inherent in the nature of ethics, and not contingent on human actions or beliefs). This eventually developed into what we today call human rights.

While there have been controversies, with regards to what human rights should be tended too first, there appears to be general consensus, that respect and protection for human life come first. Once safety has been established, then addressing concerns and offering assistance related to the basic necessities of life, comes into play. The question many ask however, is: Which human rights have priorities? While the answer to this lies within ourselves and the values instilled in us, many agree that some of these rights take precedence over others.

According to many resources, the protection of human rights, should follow this order:

  • Carrying out evacuations and relocations when necessary in an effort to protect life
  • Protecting populations against the negative impacts of natural hazards
  • Protecting populations against violence, including gender-based violence
  • Providing security in camps when these are necessary
  • Protecting people against anti-personnel landmines and other explosive devices

A second category of rights are those related to basic necessities of life, including:

  • Access to goods and services and humanitarian assistance
  • Provision of adequate food, and sanitation, shelter, clothing and essential health services.

Protection of other economic, social and cultural rights, including

  • Education
  • Property and possessions
  • Housing
  • Livelihood and work

Finally, other civil and political rights need to be protected:

  • Documentation
  • Freedom of movement and right to return
  • Family life and missing or dead relatives
  • Expression, assembly and association, and religion
  • Electoral rights.

Furthermore, strong communication with peer volunteers, task distribution, proper planning and implementation of a safety plan, will allow volunteers to assist multiple groups at multiple times. Furthermore, this will aide in the establishment of common grounds, where respect for life not only means saving people from drowning, bringing them to safety, providing basic necessities, but also a respect that must come individually from each person. The protection of Human Rights, does not simply come down to a government, it is the common responsibility of all of us, to respect life, each other, and our world. As Eleanor Roosevelt once stated: “Where after all, do Universal Human Rights begin? In small places close to home.”

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