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Which Rights Should Be Universal?$
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William Talbott

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195173475

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2005

DOI: 10.1093/0195173473.001.0001

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AN EPISTEMICALLY MODEST UNIVERSAL MORAL STANDPOINT

AN EPISTEMICALLY MODEST UNIVERSAL MORAL STANDPOINT

Chapter:
(p.48) 4 AN EPISTEMICALLY MODEST UNIVERSAL MORAL STANDPOINT
Source:
Which Rights Should Be Universal?
Author(s):

William Talbott (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0195173473.003.0004

In this chapter, Talbott uses the life of Bartolomé de Las Casas to illustrate the importance of bottom-up moral reasoning. He shows how Las Casas’s experiences in the Americas could have contributed to bottom-up reasoning that led him to give up moral principles and norms that he had previously regarded as infallible. Talbott emphasizes the importance of empathic understanding in moral reasoning and discusses various distorting influences on moral observation and moral reasoning, most importantly, socially enforced self-serving rationalizations. Talbott uses the example of Las Casas to explain the possibility of a universal moral standpoint, from which it is possible to make reliable, though not infallible, universal particular moral judgments. Talbott introduces the Harsanyi-Rawls idea of an original position behind a veil of ignorance to specify more fully the universal moral standpoint. He explains how such a universal moral standpoint avoids moral imperialism. The idea of a universal moral standpoint from which it is possible to make reliable universal particular moral judgments is the key element in Talbott’s defense of universal human rights, which begins in the next chapter.

Keywords:   Bartolomé de Las Casas, empathic understanding, John Harsanyi, moral observation, original position, particular moral judgment, John Rawls, self-serving beliefs, socially enforced beliefs, universal moral standpoint, veil of ignorance

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