Moral universalism  

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"We are bound to Enlightenment values — the universality of moral principles, the sanctity of individual volition, a detestation of wanton cruelty — and yet we have no choice but to indict the very civilization that begat those values as it goes careening through time leaving pain, death, bewilderment, the wreckage of aboriginal tribes and of rain forests in its wake. But again, the terms of that indictment can be spelled out only in the language of those values. This, and not the mincing word games of the deconstructionists, is the true aporia. The criminal is also accuser and judge."--Higher Superstition (1994) by Gross and Levitt

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Moral universalism (also called moral objectivism) is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for "all similarly situated individuals", regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature. Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism. However, not all forms of moral universalism are absolutist, nor are they necessarily value monist; many forms of universalism, such as utilitarianism, are non-absolutist, and some forms, such as that of Isaiah Berlin, may be value pluralist.

In addition to the theories of moral realism, moral universalism includes other cognitivist moral theories, such as the subjectivist ideal observer theory and divine command theory, and also the non-cognitivist moral theory of universal prescriptivism.

Contents

Overview

According to philosophy professor R. W. Hepburn: "To move towards the objectivist pole is to argue that moral judgements can be rationally defensible, true or false, that there are rational procedural tests for identifying morally impermissible actions, or that moral values exist independently of the feeling-states of individuals at particular times."

Linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky states:

"if we adopt the principle of universality: if an action is right (or wrong) for others, it is right (or wrong) for us. Those who do not rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others—more stringent ones, in fact—plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of appropriateness of response; or of right and wrong, good and evil."

History

The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be read as assuming a kind of moral universalism. The drafting committee of the Universal Declaration did assume, or at least aspired to, a "universal" approach to articulating international human rights. Although the Declaration has undeniably come to be accepted throughout the world as a cornerstone of the international system for the protection of human rights, a belief among some that the Universal Declaration does not adequately reflect certain important worldviews has given rise to more than one supplementary declaration, such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and the Bangkok Declaration.

Global environmental treaties may also assume and present a moral universalism. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is founded upon the "common heritage of mankind". Protecting this heritage is presented in the treaty as a shared moral duty requiring protective actions based on "common but differentiated responsibilities". This has been criticised as anthropocentric and state-centric but it does assert universal goals.

Attempts to define a universal morality

In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant attempts to derive a supreme principle of morality that binds all rational agents. Similarly, divine command theory presents a form of universalism, by way of the unconditional morality of God's commandments.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Moral universalism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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