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  • Addressing Human Wrongs:A Philosophy-of-Ontology Perspective
  • Jamie Morgan

In a recent issue of Philosophy East and West (vol. 52 [2] [April 2002]) Fred Dallmayr's excellent " 'Asian Values' and Global Human Rights" argued for a guarded form of rights relativism that acknowledges difference but also retains an aspiration for some form of genuine consensus. The key for Dallmayr, following Kothari and Sethi, is the creation of "shared norms of civilized experience," subject to the caveat that this

is not a simple negation of universality or moral universalism, but rather a rethinking of human rights in a direction that gives primacy to considerations of global justice—which in turn sustains rights as a protective shield. Such a rethinking or reconfiguration treats universality not as a fait accompli, but rather as a hope or yearning; above all, it deprives any given culture—especially Western culture—of pretensions to monopolize universal truth.

(pp. 184-185)

For Dallmayr the project itself is best sustained as a bottom-up process of active citizenship across the "three generations of rights": civil and political, social and economic, and cultural and collective. In these regards I am in total agreement with Dallmayr, but I feel that two additions might be made in a short commentary. First, philosophically speaking, the openness of the process of global justice is not the same as the possibilities that sustain it. The possibilities are precisely the grounds of the source of our possession of different values, beliefs, and ethics, as well as our drive toward rights. While Dallmayr provides a clear critique of the prevailing foundational/anti-foundational divide, he abandons this fundamental issue at an unnecessary impasse that damages his otherwise clear argument. Dallmayr wants to argue that circumscribed universalism has some credence but finds no plausible candidate. A "hope or a yearning" cannot be its own explanation without reducing values, et cetera, to mere constructions. This, in the first instance, inadvertently affirms Richard Rorty's fundamental relativism, which Dallmayr explicitly wants to avoid and which Rorty himself later acknowledges as problematic in his Philosophy and Social Hope.1 In the second instance, it continues to beg the question: are values, et cetera, grounded in something, and if so, what?

To address this issue I briefly discuss below some developments in the philosophy of ontology or being shared by Western Critical Realism and Chinese philosophy, including New Confucianism (Xinrujia). Second, I want to show how these developments enhance Dallmayr's practical concern with global justice. It is one of the chief strengths of his argument that he highlights how philosophy should take [End Page 575] seriously the practice of value formation as an engaged process of active citizenship. Such a process is always one of context dilemmas, of dialogues between interests and worldviews. A useful approach to what Dallmayr describes as "an entangled web of rights" in this regard is the Critical Realist concept of explanatory critique. I briefly illustrate this using a second-generation value (economy) example—the emergence of Tobin Tax organizations within Global and East Asian civil society in the wake of the East Asian financial crisis.

The Roots of Dualism in Western Rights Thinking

In a highly effective critique, Dallmayr explores (pp. 174-177) philosophical attempts to ground rights as an a priori to their social constitution. Such an a priori presupposes either a God who bestows natural rights (pace Augustine) or an evolved nature that imbues the individual with the same, such as characteristics of reason, reflexivity, intentionality, dignity, et cetera. Several objections are noted. The former entails not only a belief (that must then ultimately also be found to be true) in God, but in an active interventionist God. Meanwhile, both divinely bestowed and evolution-imbued rights raise (pace Bentham) the utilitarian conundrum of their causal status: since actualized rights are constituted in societies and humans cannot experience the pre-social, an a priori to rights seems to be simply a nonobservable postulate (a "nonsense on stilts"). Finally, if one reverses the logic of Bentham's critique, if evolution-imbued rights are accepted, one appears to confront the problem that social context then becomes an external constraint on the fundamental causal power of natural...


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