Rosmini on Individual Rights: The Soul (Reason) as Forerunner of Individual Rights in Human Society

  •  Nico P. Swartz    


The question that can be asked today is: Of what relevance is Rosmini’s legal theory on individual rights for modern man? Rosmini’s individual rights did not appear from nowhere. From the opinions of some Greek writers, he concluded that the soul, as a result of its immortal and mobile qualities, is divine in nature and therefore serves as the origin of individual rights. Rosmini is of the opinion, unlike Thomas Aquinas, that the protection of individual rights should filter through to all levels of human existence; from the foetal stage to adult life. In contrast with the Aristotelian Thomistic hylomorphism doctrine, he believes that just like an adult, a foetus has a soul, even in its early stages, and is entitled to the protection of his/her individual rights. This is the basis of the Constitution of South Africa 108 of 1996. Owing to the innate nature of the human soul, Rosmini succeeded in postulating God as ontological framework for the individual rights of man. The description of the unique value of humans in Psalm 8:5 is striking: “For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor.” (American Standard Version) Man, as image bearer of God, is thus endowed with individual rights that must be recognised by all, including the state. Rosmini hereby rejects the salus rei publicae suprema lex doctrine supported by Thomas Aquinas. Rosmini argues that, if this (salus reipublicae suprema lex) doctrine were to be followed, the state would be encroaching on the individual rights of its citizens. Furthermore, he believes that the state is geared to protect the individual rights of its citizens. Rosmini thus argues that the interests of the state are best served if the interests of the citizen are first protected.

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