Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World

Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World

Grace Y. Kao
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tt5rh
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    Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World
    Book Description:

    In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declared that every human being, without "distinction of any kind," possesses a set of morally authoritative rights and fundamental freedoms that ought to be socially guaranteed. Since that time, human rights have arguably become the cross-cultural moral concept and evaluative tool to measure the performance-and even legitimacy-of domestic regimes. Yet questions remain that challenge their universal validity and theoretical bases. Some theorists are "maximalist" in their insistence that human rights must be grounded religiously, while an opposing camp attempts to justify these rights in "minimalist" fashion without any necessary recourse to religion, metaphysics, or essentialism. In Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World, Grace Kao critically examines the strengths and weaknesses of these contending interpretations while also exploring the political liberalism of John Rawls and the Capability Approach as proposed by economist Amartya Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum. By retrieving insights from a variety of approaches, Kao defends an account of human rights that straddles the minimalist-maximalist divide, one that links human rights to a conception of our common humanity and to the notion that ethical realism gives the most satisfying account of our commitment to the equal moral worth of all human beings.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-760-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) without a single dissenting vote. The document was novel in declaring that every human being, without “distinction of any kind,” possesses a set of morally authoritative rights and fundamental freedoms that ought to be socially guaranteed. Along with the 1946 Nuremberg Principles and the 1948 Genocide Convention, the UDHR was radical in helping to construct a new geopolitical framework to hold states more accountable for the manner in which they treated their own citizens, foreign nationals, and members of other states.¹...

  5. One PROLEGOMENA TO ANY PHILOSOPHICAL DEFENSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS
    (pp. 11-30)

    This book is concerned with the prospect of justifying human rights. As such, it defends the twin ideas that there are moral claims and demands that apply to everyone and that those involving human rights can be safely counted among them.

    This first chapter is offered in the spirit of prolegomena: it will not set out to establish the universal validity of human rights but will instead lay groundwork for their eventual defense by demonstrating how two of the most common objections to such prospects ultimately fail to devastate. These are the cultural relativist arguments against the existence of any...

  6. Two THE MAXIMALIST CHALLENGE TO HUMAN RIGHTS JUSTIFICATION
    (pp. 31-56)

    Maximalist approaches to human rights make direct appeals to matters of first philosophy or religion for their ultimate justification. These premises affect their underlying rationale for human rights as well as the set of liberties or goods that will even be counted as human rights. Further distinguishing maximalist from minimalist approaches is a robust articulation of our common humanity and what it is about us as human beings that entitles us all to this special class of rights called human rights.

    Recall that the maximalist approach’s primary claim is not simply that human rights can be conceptualized within a larger...

  7. Three AN ENFORCEMENT-CENTERED APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS, WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN RAWLS
    (pp. 57-76)

    What if we were to justify a doctrine of universal human rights according to the political role they were to play in the international arena and not on any account of inherent human dignity or worth? We would presumably evade the need to identify the dignity- or worth-making feature common to all human beings, bypass seemingly intractable philosophical or religious debates about why each human being merits our respect, and thereby provide a minimalist response to the maximalist challenge to human rights justification. And what if the primary function of human rights were to govern relations between political communities by...

  8. Four CONSENSUS-BASED APPROACHES TO HUMAN RIGHTS
    (pp. 77-100)

    Consensus-based approaches to human rights retain an insight discussed in the previous chapter that different peoples can endorse the same list of provisions for markedly dissimilar final reasons. Such ecumenicism requires the official account of human rights to be theory-thin at the level of practical standards, thus allowing different parties to draw from their deeper philosophical or religiocultural beliefs in their support of those shared norms. By permitting each community to ground human rights in their own terms and perspectives, the Western philosophical or theological commitments from which the idea of individual rights is popularly believed to have originally sprung...

  9. Five THE CAPABILITY APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS
    (pp. 101-130)

    The capability approach, also known as the “capabilities approach,” is a broad conceptual framework increasingly used today to compare the quality of life across nations, evaluate the design of public policies, and assess the justice of social institutions. Simply put, this framework seeks to advance the positive freedoms of all individuals to be or to do certain things that each of us may have reason to value. The approach is most commonly associated with its leading proponents, Amartya Sen in development economics and Martha Nussbaum in political philosophy, but its influence can be seen in the work of other members...

  10. Six GROUNDING HUMAN RIGHTS IN A PLURALIST WORLD
    (pp. 131-172)

    As we have seen, it is no easy feat to provide a justification for human rights that would be robust enough to make sense of the powerful claims that the very idea makes as well as suitable under conditions of pluralism. In partial reaction to this difficulty, some have argued that the search for an underlying theoretical rationale is no longer even necessary, especially since human rights have already been institutionalized in various domestic, regional, and international laws. I would submit, however, that the desirability of identifying an adequate philosophical justification remains. Individuals and collectivities still legitimately press for principled...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-206)
  12. References
    (pp. 207-224)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 225-239)