How Our Evolving Understanding of Individual Autonomy Led to Human Rights for All

A Cultural Historian Traces Empathy From Epistolary Novels to Abolition to Act Up

In Inventing Human Rights: A History, UCLA historian Lynn Hunt traces the modern concept of Human Rights to a series of mid-18th century epistolary novels with a strong first person perspective, including Julie by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa. Male and female readers got passionately engrossed in the experience of being “in” the body and position of the heroines of these novels. Empathizing with people outside their class and experience, Hunt argues, was part of a transformation of the idea of a “self” that occurred in Europe …

More In: Humanity

Sanctuary Is an Integral Part of Human Nature

People Have Always Offered Shelter to the Stranger in Need

Since Donald Trump’s election, I’ve had to change the focus of the talks I give at churches, community events, universities, schools, and bookshops about sanctuary and asylum.

I used to …

VIDEO: What Does Poetry Prove About Humans?

A Philosopher Explains How Romantic Verse Shows the Moral Capacity of Language

In 1798, poet William Wordsworth and his sister took a walk in the Welsh countryside. The poem he wrote about that walk—“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”—moved …

Will Modern Genetics Turn Us Into Gene “Genies”?

Recent Discoveries Hold Great Promise for Medical Advancement, and Great Peril for Social Equality

With the ubiquitous ways we apply our knowledge of genetics today—in crop seeds, medicine, space—it’s hard to believe the story of the modern gene did not emerge until the mid-1800s. …

Exits

I saw a woman decaying on the street.
Not waiting for her light. Not looking, not caring and
No one hit her.

Later
I saw a woman with anger crusted
In …