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Universalism vs. Relativism: – Relativism Explored. ER 11, Gov E-1040 Spring 2012. Does Harman’s view of morality threaten human rights movement?. Task. Does Harman’s view of morality threaten the human rights movement?

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Presentation Transcript
slide3
Task

Does Harman’s view of morality threaten the human rights movement?

Need not vindicate the whole UDHR – show that idea of universal values and cross-cultural moral engagement is sensible

agenda
Agenda
  • First, simple-minded reconstruction of point human rights movement
  • Then formulate responses to Harman to show his approach does not threaten point of human rights movement
  • stay focused on Harman and thus make little explicit (but constant implicit) use of texts for today
simple minded reconstruction
Simple-minded reconstruction
  • Interconnected world: what ought we to do for each other?
  • Question arises in numerous ways at global level: we have to confront it
  • People ask for help, others know about it
consider
Consider
  • persons across cultures share vulnerabilities: suffer from physical pain, require food/water to survive, are susceptible to disease, malnutrition
  • common goods: bodily health; bodily integrity; desire to be treated with some respect in one’s affiliations
  • not culture-bound: distinctively human existence
human rights movement
Human rights movement

Answers question of how to live together by

  • Taking seriously common human vulnerabilities and broadly shared goods
  • Considering how these had been thwarted and assaulted in numerous ways in recent memory
  • Formulating a language specifically of rights in response
ghost of relativism
Ghost of Relativism

So: does Harman’s view of morality – his relativism – fundamentally threaten the human rights movement?

response i
Response I:
  • question of how we ought to live together and what we ought to do vis-à-vis each other simply arises
  • cannot help but negotiate common arrangements, at least to some extent
  • have irreversibly “encountered each other”
still response i
Still Response I
  • Harman: “Can answer ought-statements only before the background of shared motivational structure. We do not have that globally, therefore the human-rights language cannot tell us what we ought to do.”
still response i1
Still Response I
  • Harman: “Can answer ought-statements only before the background of shared motivational structure. We do not have that globally, therefore the human-rights language cannot tell us what we ought to do.”
  • Response: “It’s the other way round: We are stuck with the ought-to-do-question at the global level, and must add the motivational structure.”
remember
Remember:
  • Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
objection to response i1
Objection to Response I
  • “Beside the point – discussion is about something else”
  • “Too bad if we need it; not there to be had; interconnectedness can’t make it so”
  • “There are no sufficient value similarities”
response ii moral engagement across cultures often possible
Response II: Moral engagement across cultures often possible

Three points come together powerfully, as critical tools:

(a) common vulnerabilities and common goods

(b) reasoning that categorically restricts scope of fundamental moral values, or range of what is morally important, to particular cultures or circles inevitably draws on reasoning that is hard to defend

explains why most cultures generate forms of universalist thinking, although it may not be dominant

(c) Harman’s idea of coherence

response ii cont
Response II, Cont.
  • Harman: “My approach shows people might have fundamentally different value commitments.”
  • Response: “(a), (b), (c) show that there is no fundamental value disagreement. We can engage across cultures, are intelligible to each other.”
slide23

Harman: “My approach shows people might have fundamentally different value commitments.”

  • “(a), (b), (c) show that there is no fundamental value disagreement. We can engage across cultures, are intelligible to each other.”

(a) common vulnerabilities and common goods

(b) reasoning that categorically restricts scope of fundamental moral values, or range of what is morally important, to particular cultures or circles inevitably draws on reasoning that is hard to defend

explains why most cultures generate forms of universalist thinking, although it may not be dominant

(c) Harman’s idea of coherence

slide24

“But clearly we are familiar with much cultural disagreement – what about all that?”

slide25

“But clearly we are familiar with much cultural disagreement – what about all that?”

response ii a supportive consideration look who s talking
Response II: A supportive consideration – look who’s talking
  • Those who speak of “value imperialism” and in support of relativism are often those in power
  • Those who reject moral relativism generally focus on standpoint of victims
  • In light of the victims’ standpoint, moral relativism looks a lot less plausible
we do things differently around here
“We do things differently around here”
  • argument often rests on attribution of unanimity that does not exist
  • In case of egregious human right violations: no “we” on whose behalf anybody could speak
  • victims have complaints that are intelligible to us and on whose behalf we can speak up
slide28

The harder case:

What if “victims” agree with the practices?

but what if victims agree with the practices scanlon
But what if “victims” agree with the practices? – Scanlon
  • “But even if the victims did take the view that they have no rights against what is is done to them (…) couldn’t they be wrong in thinking this?”
  • “[W]hich is the more objectionable form of cultural superiority, to refuse to aid a victim on the ground that “they live like that – they don’t recognize rights as we know them,” or to attempt to protect the defenseless even when they themselves feel that suffering is their lot and they have no basis to complain of it?” (P 119)
but what if victims agree with the practices scanlon1
But what if “victims” agree with the practices? – Scanlon
  • “But even if the victims did take the view that they have no rights against what is is done to them (…) couldn’t they be wrong in thinking this?”
  • “[W]hich is the more objectionable form of cultural superiority, to refuse to aid a victim on the ground that “they live like that – they don’t recognize rights as we know them,” or to attempt to protect the defenseless even when they themselves feel that suffering is their lot and they have no basis to complain of it?” (P 119)
which is more objectionable form of cultural superiority
Which is more objectionable form of cultural superiority?
  • to refuse to aid a victim on the ground that “they live like that – they don’t recognize rights as we know them,”
  • or to attempt to protect the defenseless even when they themselves feel that suffering is their lot and they have no basis to complain of it?

Often aid: (2) is more problematic, whereas (1) seems like an enlightened attitude

But: (1) can easily be the more objectionable form of cultural superiority – because people can be brainwashed

must apply with extreme caution
Must apply with extreme caution
  • False consciousness: people have been persuaded to support a regime that is to somebody else’s benefit
  • Brain washing -- severe Manipulation
  • Population itself, once through the transition, would presumably approve
but if this applies
But if this applies…
  • Then this indeed is the more troublesome attitude of cultural superiority:

to refuse to aid a victim on the ground that “they live like that – they don’t recognize rights as we know them”

supported modified response ii
Supported, modified: Response II
  • Harman: “My approach shows people might have fundamentally different value commitments.”
  • Response: “(a), (b) plus (c) will generally show that there is no fundamental value disagreement. We can engage across cultures, are intelligible to each other.”