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Human Rights: Universalists Vs Culturalists Essay

1729 words - 7 pages

Human Rights – Universalists and Relativists
There are several key issue that divide Universalists and relativists in the ongoing debate about the cross-cultural implementation of human rights. This paper will focus on the arguments in which a universal rights regime sought to defend its cross-cultural validity, as well as the arguments that the proponents of Cultural particularity resisted or rejected. In answering these questions, it is important that we first establish certain key concepts and views, such as the views universalists and relativists held, and the potential objections that can be raised against such views. In particular, we will turn to Charney’s and Bell’s work ...view middle of the document...

But this only begs the question, that is, what makes it the case that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in fact universal and not merely the subjective opinions of individuals? This question aside, we must note that the idea of universal human rights is deeply seeded in the Western liberal school of thought. Moreover, Charney argued that any talk about human rights is simply moot if it limits itself to “cultural particular” talk by suggesting that there is absolutely “no point in talking about fundamental human right at all” (Charney p845-847).
The relativists believe that there is no such thing as an objective standard of right and wrong. But rather, what is right or wrong is based on culture. The basic conception in understanding morality is the observation that different cultures posses different set of moral values. That is, every culture has erected its own set of values, codes, or principles that it deems as being both true and correct. Most people think and would argue that there is such a thing as being right or wrong, true or false, but cultural relativism suggests that what we call true or right is really based on tradition and custom. Our ancestors created belief systems and passed these on to future generations that never really bothered to verify their accuracy, but rather embraced them as purely objective facts. This future generation then passes their values onto the next generation creating a cyclical phenomenon. Consequently, we are left with the view that standards of what is right and wrong completely depend on what a particular regime declares it to be. Since each regime creates its own value a system that means each regime will have a different value system that they uphold. Essentially we have many cultures believing in the objectivity of their beliefs, when really their beliefs are true only insofar as the culture says it’s true. In other words, what is true and correct is relative to a particular regime. Thus by the arguments we have laid out, it seems that the cross-cultural implementation of human rights is called into question. If values are relative, and not based on any objective standard, the relativists’ line of reasoning makes us question why should any regime advocate for the cross-cultural implementation of basic human rights for all if such an implementation would be arbitrary, in the sense that it is subjective and unfounded? But before we examine this further, we will lay out a more detailed account of the relativists’ position.
One can portray cultural relativism as such: what appears to be so to culture A is true for culture A, and what appears to be so to culture B is true for culture B. Cultural relativism seems to be claiming that what any culture asserts is the measure of all things for that culture. Cultural relativism instills doubt and undermines our common sense belief of universality, objectivity, and a morality based on such...

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