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Grounds for respect: Particularism, universalism, accountability

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Giselsson, K (2009) Grounds for respect: Particularism, universalism, accountability. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

In recent years traditional liberal humanist foundations for respect for others have been challenged on the basis that universalist grounds have resulted in the exclusion of particular others from moral consideration or respect. This current questioning of the concept of universalism is of enormous significance, in that universalism has been one of the central assumptions of modern western philosophy and a foundational key to its moral and political theory. This thesis attempts to answer the question of what grounds are needed in order to justify respect for others; whether these grounds can be said to be universalist or particularist. In attempting to answer this question, past and current arguments for and against universalism are assessed as to the scope of their moral inclusion and the adequacy of their justificatory grounds. Current arguments for particularism – as represented by posthumanism – are discussed in order to gauge whether they do indeed represent a viable alternative to universalism. It will be shown that even scholars who have ostensibly rejected humanism on the grounds that it marginalises others, still rely on implicit assumptions and appeals to humanist concepts regarding the universal equality and unconditional worth – and therefore respect – owed to human beings. Given such reliance, it is concluded that some form of universalism is needed to justify respect for others; that universalism and particularism are indeed mutually dependant. The thesis then concentrates on gauging the efficacy of current critical liberal and humanist arguments for respect. These include an assessment of present day utilitarianism, where it is shown that the inclusion of animals within the realm of moral consideration results in the exclusion of certain humans from the same realm; in short, that utilitarianism’s foundational assumptions do not adequately justify respect. It is also shown that other current humanist scholars who have attempted either to reconceptualise traditional grounds for respect or to broaden the scope of moral consideration to those traditionally excluded from such consideration with arguments based on self-determination, rationality or intuition, also prove inadequate. It is concluded that an ontological understanding of human being is needed in order to provide an adequate foundation for the justification of respect for others. Such a foundation, albeit partial in its conception, is subsequently offered; one that emphasises a communal, as opposed to an atomistic, conception of human being and that seeks to balance the tension between particularism and universalism by showing a common structure of human ethical practice that does not occlude difference. It is suggested that this common structure is the universal human practice of communal accountability, which itself is inextricably linked to communal standards of value and justice. As these communal practices are foundational both to human being and to ethics itself, it is finally concluded that communal practices provide the universal grounds needed in order to justify respect for others.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Copyright 2009 the Author
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2011 02:44
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 04:19
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/11286
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