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Universalism and Cultural Relativism

Discussion Group 9 Reaction Paper:

This section further discusses whether rights are universal or relative in character. Advocates of universality argue that certain rights such as equal protection, freedom of speech and religion are common and thus can transcend cultures. In opposition, cultural relativists argue that rights and rules of morality are encoded in a cultural context. They believe that no transcendent values can be agreed upon fully to make them universal, and thus allow for diverse views held by different cultures on what is right and wrong. “It is the content of moral principles, not their existence, that is variable among human beings”.

In discussing cultural relativism, the author takes us through the notion of Boasion ethical relativism. In this view, they call for a mutual respect between culture and an obligatory acceptance of diverse cultures. This implies that one culture should not interfere in another. “The very core of cultural relativism is the social discipline that comes of respect for differences-of mutual respect. Emphasis on the worth of many ways of life, not one, is an affirmation of the values in each culture.” The limitations of the call for tolerance is that it obligates us to approve of what others do, rendering us helpless in bringing about change in countries that desire it.

The declaration of human rights deals with human dignity and its preservance. A problem arises with this limitation in the idea that humans are on one level individuals yet they are largely shaped by the society that take part in. Therefore, a need for rights that apply to the society is needed. This provides a link to the discussion of culture, how we define it and how and whether it should be preserved.

Part II Discussion of Human Rights in the Muslim World

Abdullah Ahmed An-Na’im advocates for an adequate reform of human rights in the Islamic world that would one the one hand be consistent with Islamic religious law- Shari’a, and on the other embrace human rights. He suggests a reinterpretation of the Shari’a stating that at present it reflects a historically-conditioned interpretation of Islamic scriptures that are not in unison with the modern world. A new understanding of the texts would be formed by the modern socio/economic?political structures. He argues that this would be in step with Islamic legitimacy for it echos in many cases the honor and dignity of human kind and freedom of choice etc that form the basis of modern human rights.

Questions to keep in mind:

Third world countries desire a change to improve the quality of life and yet criticize Western interference. What change are they looking for if not a westernized change?

This section calls on our responsibility to help bring about change. In what ways should we help bring about this change? How big of a role should be play?

Often times were are hesitent to interfere at the risk of imposing Western ideas and beliefs on other cultures, but when do we need to interfere?

Rhoda Howard and Adam Kuper state that human rights is a modern notion, and tend to be characteristic of liberal of social democratic societies. In what ways is the idea of individual rights, as opposed to communal rights problematic?

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