Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings
Chapter 3: Universalism and 'the other'
3. Universalism and ‘the other’ INTRODUCTION Chapter 3 takes aim at a myth of moral universalism. This may seem surprising, if not somewhat perplexing, to some readers, given the tone and content of my argument in the previous two chapters. After all, I have suggested that justifying human rights requires a valid commitment to the existence of moral standards which are relatively ‘modest’ in scope, but which must nevertheless retain a degree of critical independence from the conditions to which many human beings are systematically exposed. A chapter devoted to critically analysing universalism would imply that I necessarily align myself with a form of moral relativism and that, in so doing, I effectively invalidate my argument to this point. A tendency to think in crudely dualistic terms, however, rarely does justice to the complexity of human affairs, and this is particularly the case when the concern is with human rights. This chapter does present a critical analysis of a certain form of universalism, whilst seeking to defend a moral commitment to ensuring that all human beings enjoy access to fundamental human rights. So, what then is the precise object of my concern and how does this chapter proceed? Moral universalism has taken many forms. One may distinguish initially between secular and religious forms of universalism, or doctrines which lay claim to the title of universality. Without, at this point, identifying any particular manifestations of each it should be clear that the differing basis and content of each militate against the...
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