Becoming to Belong: An Essay on Agency and Democratic Rights
Mcmanus, Matthew Allan
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My project develops what I call a dignity oriented model of human agency, and a related approach to human rights; especially democratic rights. I also juxtapose my model of agency against those offered by the liberal and post-modern approaches, and the political positions which flow from these approaches. In the first Chapter, I characterize our dignity as flowing from an individuals agency to engage in self-authorship by defining themselves through redefining the socio-historical boundaries within which they exist. The socio-historical boundaries are those which can be changed through the applications of what I refer to as individuals expressive capabilities. These expressive capabilities can be amplified or constrained depending on the innate capacity of the individuals in question and the particular socio-historical boundaries which constrain them. My argument is that the more ones expressive capabilities are amplified the more individuals can be said to have lived a dignified life. In the next Chapter, I argue that amplifying human dignity would involve realizing two human rights. The first is a right to participate in the democratic authorship of political and legal institutions, and the laws which flow from these. The second is a right for all individuals to enjoy an equality of expressive capabilities, except where inequalities flow from their morally significant choices. These rights would enable us to lead lives of dignified self-authorship. In Chapter Three, I deepen my philosophical account of agency by trying to illustrate how the innate human capacity to develop novel statements in semantic communities is one of the most prominent expressive capabilities which enable us to redefine the boundaries which constrain us. In Chapter Four and Chapter Five, I develop criticisms of the liberal and post-modern approaches to agency. I suggest that both of them offer unique and important insights that can help us understand what is required to amplify human dignity. None the less, I claim neither approach can satisfy our contemporary need for a model of agency and politics which is both philosophically generalizable, and yet sensitive to the actual constraints facing individuals. Finally, in Chapters Six through Eight, I critically analyze several major theoretical traditions and decisions in the Canadian, American, and European legal systems. I suggest that we should adopt my dignity oriented approach to agency as a normative guide for how to best reach a just outcome in cases involving democratic rights: including the Sauv, Williams, and Hirst decisions. In particular, I suggest we should adopt a two step test when determining how to decide a case involving democratic rights. The first is to ask how best to amplify the dignity of the individuals involved. The second is to ask how to ascribe equal value to the democratic rights of the individuals involved. Finally, I conclude by summarizing my argument and offering some suggestions for the future. In particular, I account for why I devote so little attention to realizing the second of the rights I argue for: the right to equality of expressive capabilities.