Human Rights: Relativism vs. Universalism
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students
Department: Humanities
Course Number: NPHI 3288
Course Format: Lecture
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Philosophy
  • Human Rights
Is there such a thing as an objective or universal point of view? On one hand, the history of Western philosophy can be viewed as a continuous search for a fixed point of view, for a perspective that reveals how things "really are." On the other hand, many serious thinkers have attempted to relativize any postulation of an absolute perspective. This age-old debate is reflected in modern debates, such as the conflict between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the United Nations in 1948, and objections to the imposition of a particular value system on a pluralistic world. This course explores arguments raised by ethical relativists throughout the history of philosophy, from Sextus Empiricus to Nietzsche to Richard Rorty, in order to arrive at the contemporary debate about human rights. Students analyze the strengths and weaknesses of universalist and relativist perspectives in attempting to answer the question: How can a coherent system of human rights be established in a world of diverse and sometimes contradictory social values?
Course Open to: Degree Students