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  • On Human Rights-in-the-World:A Response to Jamie Morgan
  • Fred Dallmayr

Jamie Morgan has written a thoughtful commentary that, in many ways, carries the argument of my essay forward. To this extent, I cannot but appreciate his helpful endeavor. Basically, Morgan endorses the thrust of my argument but thinks that it needs "two additions" to render it more solid and sustainable. The first addition has to do with a basic "ontological" grounding of human rights, a grounding designed to show that the process of global justice does not just rest on a vague "hope or yearning." This point is closely linked with the second addition, which is more in the nature of a supplement: the idea that a properly construed ontology is liable to buttress more strongly the need for engaged praxis and especially for the cultivation of an active global citizenship as a corollary of human rights.

I have little quarrel with these points—except that I might want to formulate things a bit differently. My essay dealt with global human rights, and especially with the vexing issue of the so-called "Asian values." I felt that I had my hands full wrestling with these complex matters and should not overburden a short essay with metaphysical or ontological questions. Thus, Morgan is quite right in noting a metaphysical parsimony in my essay (perhaps an excessive parsimony). Yet, I am [End Page 587] convinced that an attentive reader—and Morgan is an attentive reader—could not fail to detect certain latent premises or predilections. What he writes about "the roots of dualism in Western thinking" concurs entirely with my own assessment, especially when these roots are shown to protrude in Humean empiricism and Kantian idealism.1 He is quite correct, in my view, when he detects the "error of dualism" both in Hume's fact-value split and in the Kantian dichotomy of noumena and phenomena, a dichotomy ultimately rooting ethics in "a separate act of constitution sustained . . . by nothing more than autonomous human will." Morgan also seems to me on the right track when he refuses to identify "human being" either with a fixed (essentialized) "human nature" or else with an "empty vessel" (a Lockean tabula rasa leaving everything to external socialization). The latter position, he pointedly notes, is "as incompatible with the struggle for global justice as an over-determining nature." Finally, I concur with him in his critique of a certain kind of pragmatism that abandons the issue of ethical motivation as "a no-go area." Particularly from the angle of human rights, pragmatism can ill afford to be "empty of ontological content" and actually "entails ontological presuppositions about characteristics of being that ought to be fostered."

Morgan's commentary offers suggestions on how to remedy the suspected ontological lacuna in my essay. The chief remedies proposed are the New Confucianism, as articulated by Roger Ames, Henry Rosemont, and others, and Western Critical Realism, prominently represented in the writings of Roy Bhaskar. I confess that I am not very familiar with Bhaskar's work (my failing), although I have recently studied his From East to West: Odyssey of a Soul. I find much that is congenial in his argument, but am somewhat alienated by an occasional conceptual terseness (borrowed from British analytical philosophy). More directly appealing to me is the other remedy, New Confucianism, although I would not claim real expertise. Actually, nearly everything I know about Confucianism (old or new) I have learned from Henry Rosemont, Roger Ames, Tu Wei-ming, and Herbert Fingarette—to whom I am greatly indebted. Thanks to Jamie Morgan, I am now also familiar with the work of Zheng Jiadong and Mou Zongsan and their arguments that Confucianism "articulates nonduality between the human and the world through the continuity between elements of reality" and that social change is possible "because we are capable of social improvement through right action"—arguments with which I cannot quarrel.

Not being an Asianist, however, I cannot really claim this remedy as my own. Fortunately, Morgan's response also points (at least obliquely) to other ontological resources. The section on "Being and Worth" alludes appropriately to Herder's view of the cultural formation of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 587-590
Launched on MUSE
2003-10-06
Open Access
No
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