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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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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

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Giselsson, K
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Copyright 2009 the Author

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