Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World

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248 pp., 5.5 x 8.5
ISBN: 9781589017337 (1589017331)

ISBN: 9781589017603

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March 2011
LC: 2010036734

Advancing Human Rights series


Table of Contents

Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World
Grace Y. Kao

In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which declared that every human being, without "distinction of any kind," possesses a set of morally authoritative rights and fundamental freedoms that ought to be socially guaranteed. Since that time, human rights have arguably become the cross-cultural moral concept and evaluative tool to measure the performance—and even legitimacy—of domestic regimes. Yet questions remain that challenge their universal validity and theoretical bases.

Some theorists are "maximalist" in their insistence that human rights must be grounded religiously, while an opposing camp attempts to justify these rights in "minimalist" fashion without any necessary recourse to religion, metaphysics, or essentialism. In Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World, Grace Kao critically examines the strengths and weaknesses of these contending interpretations while also exploring the political liberalism of John Rawls and the Capability Approach as proposed by economist Amartya Sen and philosopher Martha Nussbaum.

By retrieving insights from a variety of approaches, Kao defends an account of human rights that straddles the minimalist-maximalist divide, one that links human rights to a conception of our common humanity and to the notion that ethical realism gives the most satisfying account of our commitment to the equal moral worth of all human beings.

Grace Y. Kao is an associate professor of ethics at Claremont School of Theology and an associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Sumner B. Twiss, John Kelsay, and Terry Coonan, Series Editors
"Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World makes an important contribution to current discussions of the universality of human rights in the context of cultural and religious pluralism. It embodies broad and deep knowledge of the current theoretical discussions of the foundation and meaning of human rights in both secular and religious contexts. It will be of great interest to human rights scholars in a variety of disciplines, both theoretical and policy-oriented."—David Hollenbach, University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice, Boston College

"Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World is a must read. It provides an introduction to the basic issues of human rights and should be read in any introductory courses on human rights. Not only does Kao write clearly about complex issues, but she brilliantly analyses the leading and diverse positions. She thereby provides excellent treatment of the relevant issues implied in the thorny issue of cultural pluralism."—Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School

"Clearly written, rigorously argued, and thoroughly researched Grounding Human Rights is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary discussions of human rights. Grace Kao has given us a philosophically sophisticated yet truly accessible book, a rare and valuable contribution."—Ronald F. Thiemann, Bussey Professor of Theology. Harvard University

Table of Contents

1. Prolegomena to Any Philosophical Defense of Human Rights
Cultural Relativism

2. The Maximalist Challenge to Human Rights Justification
Maximalist Approaches in Human Rights Declarations and Documents
Why Human Rights Needs Religion: A Sampling of Four Theoretical Accounts
A Preliminary Assessment of the Maximalist Challenge
Rising to the Maximalist Challenge

3. An Enforcement-Centered Approach to Human Rights, With Special Reference to John Rawls
A Primer on Rawls's Conception of Global Justice
Human Rights in the Law of Peoples Compared to International Human Rights Law
Rawlsian Human Rights: An Assessment

4. Consensus-Based Approaches to Human Rights
Obtaining a Cross-Cultural Consensus on Human Rights
Option 1: Consensus-Producing New Universal Human Rights Standards
Option 2: Consensus-Encouraging Plural Foundations for Human Rights
Beyond Shared Norms: returning to the Original Sources of Inspiration

5. The Capability Approach to Human Rights
What Is the Capability Approach? A Primer
Comparing the Capability Approach to the Human Rights Framework
Justifying Human Capabilities and Human Rights
Enhancing Human Rights through the Framework of Capabilities
Revisiting the Question of Justification

6. Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World
Assessing and Retrieving Minimalist Strategies of Justification
Assessing and Retrieving Maximalist Approaches to Justification
Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World by Straddling the Minimalist-Maximalist Divide