Joseph Oppong

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 2010


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

James Bailey

Committee Member

Elizabeth Cochran

Committee Member

Gerald Boodoo


Catholic Social Teaching, Christian Ethics, Common Good, Human Rights, Justice, Public Church


The issue of human rights represents what is probably the primary ethical concern in the world today. No human problem transcends national boundaries to the degree that violations of human rights do, not only with regard to their causes, but also in search for human solutions. There are many important philosophers and theologians, from a various philosophical and religious traditions, engaged in an on-going discussion and debate about the meaning, purpose, and limits of human rights language. This study is aimed at assessing the work of one important contributor to this discussion, the prominent Roman Catholic moral theologian, David Hollenbach, S.J.

The structure of this study is as follows: First, we present a theoretical account of the origins of human rights and a discussion of the current theoretical debates about rights. We then review Hollenbach's interpretation of the development of human rights in the twentieth century and within Catholic social teaching in view of the fact that the starting point for understanding his contribution to the debate is seen from his extended and systematic presentation of the Catholic tradition. Secondly, we analyze his methodology. We begin with a review of some of the more important methodologies that are or have been used by moral theologians in the twentieth-century and situate Hollenbach's methodological approach in relation to these. We argue that Hollenbach's revisionist/inductive approach is particularly suitable for an age that gives particular emphasis to historical consciousness. It helps him to address postmodern criticisms of universal moral claims, including human rights, thereby mitigating the charge that the latter is necessarily another tool for Western imperialism. Hollenbach's methodology is also consistent with a distinctive emphasis of his work: that wherever you find human beings, there is the need for community and participation.

Thirdly, we highlight the major themes in Hollenbach's work, with a particular emphasis on the distinctive contribution Hollenbach makes to human rights debates. A distinct contribution he has made to the debate on human rights is his reconstructed vision of the common good that is expansive in scope. He maintains that human rights are moral claims of all persons to be treated, by virtue of their humanity, as participants in the shared life of the human community. Employing the concept of the common good, human dignity, justice and participation and solidarity, he is able to make the Catholic Church's voice be heard in a pluralistic society like the United States and beyond. The distinctive substance of his writing that is relevant to the global situation of human rights is his emphasis on the link between individual human rights and participation in the common good. His emphasis on participation as integral to the good of the person and the good of the community leads also to an understanding of human rights that goes beyond the traditional liberal emphasis on political rights alone to one that also includes economic and social rights.

Finally, we explore the relevance of Hollenbach's understanding of human rights for contemporary challenges now faced in the world. He proposes in his writings a community that is built on the ethics of responsibility, the creation of a society where the structures of sin that dehumanize the person are transformed into those that would enhance the dignity of each person. His passion for the ordering of society toward the common good could inspire renewed efforts in addressing the issues of global warming, environmental degradation, poverty, inequality, marginalization and promote human welfare.