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Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring-Summer 2002

Clark Butler
Pages 5-22

Human Rights
The Ethics Behind the International Legality

This article vindicates human rights, not as natural rights holding wherever human beings are, but as reducible to one historically constructed right to freedom of thought and its universal modes. Universal morality is elicited from international human rights law. To be moral is first to help engender everywhere either mere inner recognition of the validity of rights or mere outer compliance with their requirements; and to engender finally inner recognition expressed in a duty of outer observance. Human rights ethics replaces the rights consciousness common in the West with a duty consciousness. This universal rational morality supersedes utilitarianism, Kantianism, and other rational theories. Yet moralities making no rational claim on all (e.g., Christian, Buddhist) may flourish within human rights ethics as the universal ethical minimum.

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