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Anger and Forgiveness"Are You There Alone?"10 Good Questions about Life and DeathA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to BioethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Critique of the Moral Defense of VegetarianismA Delicate BalanceA Fragile LifeA Life for a LifeA Life-Centered Approach to BioethicsA Matter of SecurityA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Mirror Is for ReflectionA Natural History of Human MoralityA Philosophical DiseaseA Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics ConsultingA Question of TrustA Sentimentalist Theory of the MindA Short Stay in SwitzerlandA Tapestry of ValuesA Very Bad WizardA World Without ValuesAction and ResponsibilityAction Theory, Rationality and CompulsionActs of ConscienceAddiction and ResponsibilityAddiction NeuroethicsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAfter HarmAftermathAgainst AutonomyAgainst BioethicsAgainst HealthAgainst MarriageAgainst Moral 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IdentitiesDeaf Identities in the MakingDeath Is That Man Taking NamesDebating ProcreationDebating Same-Sex MarriageDecision Making, Personhood and DementiaDecoding the Ethics CodeDefining DifferenceDefining Right and Wrong in Brain ScienceDefining the Beginning and End of LifeDelusions of GenderDementiaDemocracy in What State?Demons of the Modern WorldDescriptions and PrescriptionsDesert and VirtueDesire, Practical Reason, and the GoodDestructive Trends in Mental HealthDeveloping the VirtuesDid My Neurons Make Me Do It?Difference and IdentityDigital HemlockDigital SoulDignityDignityDisability BioethicsDisability, Difference, DiscriminationDiscrimination against the Mentally IllDisordered Personalities and CrimeDisorders of VolitionDisorientation and Moral LifeDivided Minds and Successive SelvesDoes Feminism Discriminate against Men?Does Torture Work?Double Standards in Medical Research in Developing CountriesDown GirlDrugs and JusticeDworkin and His CriticsDying in the Twenty-First 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the A PrioriEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics and the Metaphysics of MedicineEthics at the CinemaEthics at the End of LifeEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationEthics Done RightEthics ExpertiseEthics for EveryoneEthics for PsychologistsEthics for the New MillenniumEthics in CyberspaceEthics in Everyday PlacesEthics in Health CareEthics In Health Services ManagementEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in PracticeEthics in PsychiatryEthics in PsychologyEthics in Psychotherapy and CounselingEthics of PsychiatryEthics without OntologyEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEvaluating the Science and Ethics of Research on HumansEvilEvil GenesEvil in Modern ThoughtEvil in Modern ThoughtEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolved MoralityExperiments in EthicsExploding the Gene MythExploiting ChildhoodFacing Human SufferingFact and ValueFacts and ValuesFaking ItFalse-Memory Creation in Children and AdultsFat ShameFatal FreedomFellow-Feeling and the Moral LifeFeminism and Its DiscontentsFeminist Ethics and Social and Political PhilosophyFeminist TheoryFinal ExamFirst Do No HarmFirst, Do No HarmFlashpointFlesh WoundsForced to CareForgivenessForgivenessForgiveness and LoveForgiveness and ReconciliationForgiveness and RetributionForgiveness is Really StrangeFoucault and the Government of DisabilityFoundational Issues in Human Brain MappingFoundations of Forensic Mental Health AssessmentFree WillFree Will And Moral ResponsibilityFree Will and Reactive AttitudesFree Will, Agency, and Meaning in LifeFree?Freedom and ValueFreedom vs. InterventionFriendshipFrom Darwin to HitlerFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Enlightenment to ReceptivityFrom Morality to Mental HealthFrom Silence to VoiceFrom Valuing to ValueFrontiers of JusticeGender in the MirrorGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetics of Original 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Sick I Don't Need Help!I Was WrongIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf That Ever Happens to MeImproving Nature?In Defense of FloggingIn Defense of SinIn Love With LifeIn Our Own ImageIn the FamilyIn the Land of the DeafIn the Name of IdentityIn the Wake of 9/11In Two MindsInclusive EthicsInformed Consent in Medical ResearchInnovation in Medical TechnologyInside Assisted LivingInside EthicsIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIntensive CareInto the Gray ZoneIs Human Nature Obsolete?Is Long-Term Therapy Unethical?Is There a Duty to Die?Is There an Ethicist in the House?Issues in Philosophical CounselingJudging Children As ChildrenJust a DogJust BabiesJust CareJustice for ChildrenJustice for HedgehogsJustice in RobesJustice, Luck, and KnowledgeJustifiable ConductKant on Moral AutonomyKant's Theory of VirtueKids of CharacterKilling McVeighLack of CharacterLack of CharacterLaw and the BrainLearning About School ViolenceLearning from Baby PLeaving YouLectures on the History of Political 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Brain Made Me Do ItMy Sister's KeeperMy Sister's KeeperMy WayNano-Bio-EthicsNarrative MedicineNarrative ProsthesisNatural Ethical FactsNatural-Born CybogsNaturalized BioethicsNeither Bad nor MadNeoconservatismNeonatal BioethicsNeurobiology and the Development of Human MoralityNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNeuroethicsNew Takes in Film-PhilosophyNew Waves in EthicsNew Waves in MetaethicsNietzsche on Ethics and PoliticsNo Child Left DifferentNo Impact ManNormative EthicsNormativityNothing about us, without us!Oath BetrayedOf War and LawOn ApologyOn Being AuthenticOn EvilOn Human RightsOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOn the TakeOn Virtue EthicsOn What MattersOn What We Owe to Each OtherOne ChildOne Nation Under TherapyOne World NowOne World NowOur Bodies, Whose Property?Our Bodies, Whose Property?Our Daily MedsOur Faithfulness to the PastOur Posthuman FutureOut of EdenOut of Its MindOut of the ShadowsOverdosed AmericaOxford Handbook of Psychiatric EthicsOxford Studies in Normative EthicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, Volume 7Oxford Textbook of Philosophy of PsychiatryPassionate DeliberationPatient Autonomy and the Ethics of ResponsibilityPC, M.D.Perfecting VirtuePersonal AutonomyPersonal Autonomy in SocietyPersonal Identity and EthicsPersonalities on the PlatePersonhood and Health CarePersons, Humanity, and the Definition of DeathPerspectives On Health And Human RightsPharmaceutical FreedomPharmacracyPharmageddonPhilosophy and This Actual WorldPhilosophy of BiologyPhilosophy of Technology: The Technological ConditionPhysician-Assisted DyingPicturing DisabilityPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying God?Playing God?Political EmotionsPornlandPowerful MedicinesPractical Autonomy and BioethicsPractical EthicsPractical Ethics for PsychologistsPractical RulesPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic BioethicsPragmatic NeuroethicsPraise and BlamePreferences and Well-BeingPrimates and PhilosophersPro-Life, Pro-ChoiceProcreation and ParenthoodProfits Before People?Progress in BioethicsProperty in the 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of DarkThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story of Cruel and UnusualThe Story WithinThe Stubborn System of Moral ResponsibilityThe Suicide TouristThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Therapy of DesireThe Trauma of Psychological TortureThe Trauma of Psychological TortureThe Triple HelixThe Trolley Problem MysteriesThe Trouble with DiversityThe Truth About the Drug CompaniesThe Ugly LawsThe Varieties of Religious ExperienceThe Virtue of Defiance and Psychiatric EngagementThe Virtues of FreedomThe Virtues of HappinessThe Virtuous Life in Greek EthicsThe Virtuous PsychiatristThe Voice of Breast Cancer in Medicine and BioethicsThe War Against BoysThe War for Children's MindsThe Whole ChildThe Woman RacketThe Worldwide Practice of TortureTherapy with ChildrenThieves of VirtueThree Generations, No ImbecilesTimes of Triumph, Times of DoubtTolerance Among The VirtuesTolerance and the Ethical LifeTolerationToxic PsychiatryTrauma, Truth and ReconciliationTreatment Kind and FairTrusting on the EdgeTry to RememberUltimate JudgementUnborn in the USA: Inside the War on AbortionUndermining ScienceUnderstanding AbortionUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding EmotionsUnderstanding EvilUnderstanding Kant's EthicsUnderstanding Moral ObligationUnderstanding Physician-Pharmaceutical Industry InteractionsUnderstanding TerrorismUnderstanding the GenomeUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnhingedUnprincipled VirtueUnsanctifying Human Life: Essays on EthicsUnspeakable Acts, Ordinary PeopleUp in FlamesUpheavals of ThoughtUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryValue-Free Science?Values and Psychiatric DiagnosisValues in ConflictVegetarianismViolence and Mental DisorderVirtue EthicsVirtue, Rules, and JusticeVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVirtues and Their VicesVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsVulnerability, Autonomy, and Applied EthicsWar Against the WeakWar, Torture and TerrorismWarrior's DishonourWeaknessWelfare and Rational CareWhat are you staring at?What Genes Can't DoWhat Have We DoneWhat Is a Human?What Is Good and WhyWhat Is Good and WhyWhat Is the Good Life?What Price Better Health?What Should I Do?What We Owe to Each OtherWhat Would Aristotle Do?What's Good on TVWhat's Normal?What's Wrong with Children's RightsWhat's Wrong with Homosexuality?What's Wrong With Morality?When Is Discrimination Wrong?Who Holds the Moral High Ground?Who Owns YouWho Qualifies for Rights?Whose America?Whose View of Life?Why Animals MatterWhy Animals MatterWhy Does Inequality Matter?Why Honor MattersWhy I Burned My Book and Other Essays on DisabilityWhy Not Kill Them All?Why Punish? How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
This would be a terrific book if it were better written. Its scope is admirable, beginning with a chapter on the history of the concept of human rights in the Western tradition of political philosophy and continuing with a chapter on the evolution of the quasi-legal forms and elaborations of the concept through the work of the United Nations in the twentieth century. There are conceptual chapters seeking to clarify what the concept is and how it might be grounded by philosophical argument, and there is a concluding chapter on global ethics. However, the style of writing is atrocious. Mahoney cannot trust himself to speak in his own voice. He peppers his text with lengthy and frequent quotations from others, most of which he does not explicate or explore. The text reads very like that of an inexperienced research student assembling an uncritical literature review before feeling confident enough to begin to develop a thesis of her own. While Mahoney's research is thorough and the range of his reading very wide, he never succeeds in synthesizing his ideas into a readable thesis of his own. Here is a typical passage from page 184:
Most [theorists], however, share misgivings at the prospect of a world government, and would prefer to see, not global government, but some form of global civil society developing. Thus, Falk recognizes that "we are in transition from a world of states to a globalized order assuming some as yet undetermined structure of authority and influence" (Falk 2000: 236 n. 7). It may be true, as Trigg comments (2005: 128), that "it is a mistake to assume that morality, even the morality of nations, is only real if it takes on a political guise." Yet Falk is surely correct in observing that "the overarching aim of normative commitment is to incorporate rights and justice into a framework of humane governance (Falk 2000: 10), whatever structure that framework may take. However, Trigg (2005: 128) may be given the final word here: "Whether or not international institutions should be set up to enforce a 'cosmopolitan law,' governments ought to be answerable to the people they represent, and those people should never forget their moral responsibility, any more than members of a government should" (p. 128).
Mahoney offers no further commentary on these quotations.
Even when Mahoney does allow his own views to emerge, they do so without sufficient argument to support them. For example, at the conclusion of the historical chapter, Mahoney claims that it was the Catholic Church that preserved the concept of human rights in the face of the onslaught of communism. Critics of the undemocratic forms of governance and sexist policies of that church will be surprised by that claim. It is striking also just how Eurocentric Mahoney's account of the history of the concept of human rights is. In the light of the concluding chapter in which the world relevance of the concept is espoused, one might have hoped for an exploration of the concept or of cognate concepts in other cultural traditions. Mahoney does provide quotations from others on this issue in later chapters but never explores the issue in his own terms.
The chapter that seeks to clarify the concept of human rights, as opposed to civil rights, toys teasingly with such alternative views that they are one's basic entitlements, or reasons for others to act in certain ways towards one, or one's moral power to produce obligations in others, or socially constructed expectations. Mahoney comments on debates about whether rights precede duties or vice versa, whether rights talk is conducive to an individualistic form of life as opposed to a communitarian form, whether the apparent proliferation of rights-claims in Western societies is justified, and how rights-talk counters the utilitarian tendencies of public policy making in modern societies.
The chapter on how the reality of human rights is established admits that the concept first emerged in conjunction with religious belief in a God who established Natural Law and gave human beings the moral property of having rights. More recent theorists have attempted to ground them in the nature of the human person or the purposes of human life. But if such arguments are not religious, they are still metaphysical. I would think it better to see rights talk as the expression of a moral consensus reached, largely through the organs of the United Nations, by the world community. The United Nations itself saw human rights pragmatically as prerequisites for world peace. While many think that such non-metaphysical arguments may be as solid a grounding as is available for the concept of human rights, this is one question upon which Mahoney seems to have a view of his own. His theory is that the existence of human rights is based upon the fact of human dignity and that human dignity, in turn, is a product of 'the wonder of our being.' Because we have such capacities as rationality and self-reflective consciousness, we have a dignity unique in the natural world. Accordingly, we ought to be shown the respect that is expressed as acknowledgement of our fundamental rights. The problem with this argument is that the conclusion -- expressed in an 'ought' statement -- does not follow. Not only does it commit the naturalistic fallacy, but one could just as well conclude, as slave owners did, that these wonderful creatures would be useful and profitable possessions. A further problem with any argument that rests on the concept of human dignity is that it is circular. Do we have rights because we have dignity, or do we have dignity because we have rights? Perhaps our dignity just consists in our having rights and, if this is so, our dignity cannot be foundational for our rights.
The final chapter looks at the significance of the concept of human rights in a globalized world. Is there a global ethic to which it might be tied or does morality take differing and incommensurable forms in different cultures such that some forms are congenial to human rights and others not? The view that emerges from the many sources that Mahoney cites is that the discourse of human rights is a valid global moral currency through which local practices can be evaluated and global policies developed. It is of particular relevance to the problems of world poverty, environmental justice and global health. Seeing the world as a global community inevitably leads to the postulation of a cosmopolitan outlook in which every individual is morally as worthy as any other. Indeed, this is a direct implication of the concept of universal human rights. One problem is that another implication is that nation-states deserve fewer sovereign rights than they currently claim.
This book raises a great many important issues and can be used as a guide to the literature on them. However, if you want to read a brief, more accessible and well-argued text on such issues I would recommend Robert Paul Churchill's 2006 text, Human Rights and Global Diversity, (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall).
© 2007 Stan van Hooft
Stan van Hooft is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Deakin University in Australia. He is the author of Caring: An Essay in the Philosophy of Ethics, (Niwot, University Press of Colorado, 1995) and numerous journal articles on moral philosophy, bioethics, business ethics, and on the nature of health and disease. He is also a co-author of Facts and Values: An Introduction to Critical Thinking for Nurses, (Sydney, MacLennan and Petty, 1995). His Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources for Bioethics, was published by Rodopi (Amsterdam and New York) in 2004. Stan published two further books in 2006: Caring about Health, (Aldershot, Ashgate), and Understanding Virtue Ethics, (Chesham, Acumen Publishers). His current research centers on Global Ethics and the philosophy of Cosmopolitanism.