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Human Rights and Human Well-Being$
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William Talbott

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195173482

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195173482.001.0001

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Epistemological Foundations for Human Rights

Epistemological Foundations for Human Rights

Chapter:
(p.157) SEVEN Epistemological Foundations for Human Rights
Source:
Human Rights and Human Well-Being
Author(s):

William J. Talbott (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195173482.003.0007

This chapter provides an historical explanation of the epistemological basis for autonomy rights. The history begins with Mill’s revolutionary social process epistemology in On Liberty. On Mill’s account, to attain rational beliefs and to approach true beliefs, we depend on being part of a process of free give-and-take of opinion. The chapter contrasts Mill’s account based on this real-world process with Habermas’s account of normative validity based on an ideal process of rational discourse. The chapter criticizes Rawls’s move from metaphysical to political liberalism, which led Rawls to dispense with truth and to replace it with a relativized version of reasonableness. The chapter endorses Habermas’s insistence that engaging in normative inquiry commits us to standards of validity that transcend our particular life world. However, the chapter criticizes Habermas for a move that parallels Rawls’s: Habermas’s decision to understand our normative commitments as factual rather than metaphysical. Finally, the chapter reverses the order of explanation in Habermas’s theory of normative validity. It is not by reference to an ideal process of rational discourse that the results of our real-world process of free give-and-take of opinion attain whatever validity they might have; it is the real-world process that provides the grounding for our beliefs about what an ideal process would be like.

Keywords:   autonomy rights, epistemology, fallibilism, freedom of expression, free give-and-take of opinion, Jürgen Habermas, metaphysical liberalism, J. S. Mill, moral constructivism, political liberalism, rational discourse, John Rawls, reasonable disagreement, relativism

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