Josef Seifert


Moral obligations and basic human rights must be distinguished from each other and from positive rights and laws. Ethics and basic human rights rest on human dignity. The right to life is shown to be a natural and “absolute right,” but it is also in a certain sense the absolutely foundational concrete human right (Urgrundrecht) grounded in ontological dignity: all other human rights presuppose necessarily human life while human life has no more fundamental foundation in other goods but constitutes their ground. Other ideas about the most foundational right (such as the habeas corpus) are less foundational for the reason that they are more insignificant, can be suspended, are not immune to emergency states, such that their violation is not under all circumstances a grave violation. Moreover, they presuppose the right to life. These rights also refer only to a small sector of humanity, not applying to babies or comatose patients. The right to life is held by all human beings without exception, it is unrenounceable. For these and many other reasons the right to life is in an important sense the most fundamental right, in accordance with the first point of view for determining which is the most basic human right: Which right refers to the most basic good that is the condition of all others? However, there are two other points of view to determine the most basic right: The second point of view is expressed in the question: “Which human right is the most universal and comprehensive one and includes all others?” This is not true of the right to life which does not say anything about any other right. The respect for human life would not necessarily prevent a person from depriving another person of all other human rights, selling her as slave, torturing her, etc. From this point of view the right to life is in no way the Urgrundrecht, but rather the “universal right to be respected in one’s human dignity,” as well as “the right not to be harmed.” A third point of view to determine the Urgrundrecht considers the value rank of a good in which a human right is founded. From this point of view the “right to the freedom of conscience” linked to the highest (moral) values and the “right to religious freedom” are higher human rights because to just live without any other value and good in one’s life is certainly not the highest good. The paper concludes to a trilogy of the most basic human rights respect for which includes respect for all human rights.