Global Ethics, Human Rights and Non-Western Values

By Ashwani Peetush.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

I argue that the challenge posed by various non-Western peoples that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is parochial and biased towards Euro-Western cultures is well-founded. I contend that Western theorists often too easily dismiss such a claim as simply disguising the arbitrary abuse of political power. While this may be plausible in the case of the Chinese government, I contend that such a retort cannot be generalized without unfairly ignoring a variety of legitimate philosophical and political concerns of various non-Western peoples and nations. I argue that the very portrayal of this challenge as the “Asian values debate” by Western theorists distorts the complexity and range of issues involved. The challenge is far more global and nuanced; it is also made by various Aboriginal peoples, in addition to Islamic nations. I argue that the challenge encompasses three different types of theoretical issues, only one of which may be construed as an outright rejection of human rights norms. The first issue revolves around establishing human rights norms within differing cultural self-understandings and traditions. The second issue concerns disagreement over the content and interpretation of particular UDHR articles. I contend that there are strong arguments that ground both issues. The third type of objection is a rejection of human rights norms and the ethical standards on which they are based. I argue that such an objection is usually premised on ethical relativism and can be adequately addressed.

Keywords: Human Rights, Global Ethics, Non-Western Nations, Culture, Diversity

Global Studies Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.63-70. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 534.397KB).

Dr. Ashwani Peetush

Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

I am interested in ethics and social and political philosophy. In particular, I am interested in multiculturalism, Aboriginal peoples, and international human rights or the idea of global ethics.

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