Hello Folks –
This week’s discussion turns to, arguably, the two most abstract categories of rights: universal and relative/conditional. To begin, it is typical to try to create a list of rights that cannot, or should not, be denied under ANY circumstances. But, even the most common right to head that list – the right to life – seems to be conditional under certain circumstances. The most obvious, perhaps, is capital punishment.
That is the subject of the Star Trek episode for this week: “Justice.” Here the question is clarified. Does the Federation’s argument that the right to life is universal supersede the Edo’s right to enforce its society’s death penalty? Further, the Federation has its own relative right enshrined in the Primary Directive – non-interference in other societies. That is also challenged in this episode. How do the events of this episode relate to our real world?
Donnelly’s article moves us beyond a simplistic approach to the universal – relative conflict to consider several different ways in which we can think about the ‘universal’ or ‘relative’ nature of human rights. What are the different ways that we might understand human rights to be universal? Do Donnelly’s various types of universality seem reasonable or do they confuse the issue?
Weston pushes the discussion further to consider ways that we might resolve the conflict between these two categories of rights – particularly when we are talking about cultural relativity. Are cultural or social differences sufficient to legitimize different human rights in different societies/cultures? Or, are universal rights just that – universal – and cannot be limited for any reason? For example, if a society wants to limit access to education for a certain segment of the people living there, is that ok? What about health care or freedom of speech? When certain rights are deemed to be limited, what are reasonable limitations to put on them?
Weston introduces his concept of the ‘methodology of respect’ to address such conflicts. Is that a viable way to minimize or start to end the conflict between universal and relative rights? To come full circle, do you see this idea reflected in the “Justice” episode?
Finally, what do we need to consider when trying to implement, protect and/or enforce both universal and relative rights?