Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 12, 2018


Clark Butler
Pages 41-49

Human Rights Ethics
A Contemporary Normative Ethical Theory

Human rights have increasingly come to the center of political and social philosophy since 1945. The have been widely discussed in publications on topical human rights issues, in the work of some of the most notable philosophers of the time like Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls, and in volumes on global justice. But, despite Habermas work in Diskurs Ethik, discussion ethics (what I call ‘Human Rights Ethics’) has never clearly been presented as a normative ethical theory in competition with the classical rivals such as utilitarianism and Kantian ethics. This paper makes a clear, concise case recognition of human rights ethics as a contemporary normative ethical theory, and for its inclusion in future elementary textbooks. Universal legal human rights protect the central ethical human right to freedom of expression (as integral to a cooperative search for the truth, including the truth as to the correct normative ethical theory). Human Rights Ethics supersedes classical theories based on evident first principles because these principles are either merely asserted without justification (once the appeal to self-evidence has been has been dropped) or are justified (or refuted) by being superseded by the final self-justifying standard of definable ethical discussion. The very refutation of human rights ethics could be sound only through ethical discussion, with all parties exercising the ethical, but not yet universally legal, right to freedom of expression. Hence the refutation of the ethical right to freedom of expression cannot be sound.