Which Rights Should Be Universal?

Paperback | October 18, 2007

byWilliam Talbott

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"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." So begins the U.S. Declaration of Independence. What follows those words is a ringing endorsement of universal rights, but it is far from self-evident. Why did the authors claim that it was? William Talbott suggests that they were trapped by apresupposition of Enlightenment philosophy: That there was only one way to rationally justify universal truths, by proving them from self-evident premises. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the authors of the U.S. Declaration had no infallible source of moral truth. For example, many of the authors of the Declaration of Independence endorsed slavery. The wrongness of slavery was not self-evident; it was a moral discovery. In this book, William Talbott builds on the work of John Rawls, Jurgen Habermas, J.S. Mill, Amartya Sen, and Henry Shue to explain how, over the course of history, human beings have learned how to adopt a distinctively moral point of view from which it is possible to make universal, though notinfallible, judgments of right and wrong. He explains how this distinctively moral point of view has led to the discovery of the moral importance of nine basic rights. Undoubtedly, the most controversial issue raised by the claim of universal rights is the issue of moral relativism. How can the advocate of universal rights avoid being a moral imperialist? In this book, Talbott shows how to defend basic individual rights from a universal moral point of view thatis neither imperialistic nor relativistic. Talbott avoids moral imperialism by insisting that all of us, himself included, have moral blindspots and that we usually depend on others to help us to identify those blindspots. Talbott's book speaks to not only debates on human rights but to broader issues of moral and cultural relativism, and will interest a broad range of readers.

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"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." So begins the U.S. Declaration of Independence. What follows those words is a ringing endorsement of universal rights, but it is far from self-evident. Why did the authors claim that it was? William Talbott suggests that they were trapped by apresupposition of Enlightenment philosophy: That ...

William J. Talbott is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Washington. This book is the first of two projected volumes on this topic.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 6.1 × 9.21 × 0.59 inPublished:October 18, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195331346

ISBN - 13:9780195331349

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction2. The Proof Paradigm and the Moral Discovery Paradigm3. Cultural Relativism about Human Rights4. An Epistemically Modest Universal Moral Standpoint5. The Development of Women's Rights as a Microcosm of the Development of Human Rights6. Autonomy Rights7. Political Rights8. Clarifications and Objections9. ConclusionNotes/References/Index

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"A plausible defense of universal human rights must respond to the challenge of cultural relativism on the one flank, and the charge of moral imperialism on the other. In his well-written and carefully argued book, Which Rights Should be Universal?, William Talbott does a fine job ofnavigating between these two poles. Talbott warns against the infallibilistic and overly-confident attitude of the moral imperialist on the one side, but rejects 'the wishy-washiness' of the moral relativist on the other. This book is an exemplary study of how this epistemic modesty can go hand inhand with a metaphysical immodesty to order to defend an account of human rights that is at once culturally sensitive but universalistic in aspiration."--Kok-Chor Tan, University of Pennsylvania, from the symposium Which Rights Should Be Universal?, Human Rights and Human Welfare, An InternationalReview of Books and Other Publications