Global Ethics and Respect for Culture
CULTURAL INTEGRITY AND WORLD COMMUNITY, pp. 3-24, Cheryl Hughes and Yeager Hudson, eds., Edwin Mellen, 2000
12 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2011
Date Written: 2000
A plausible normative political theory must stake a course that on the one hand explains the value of existing cultures, and at the same time defends some limits on toleration. The need for such an account is apparent in two recent statements. The report from UNESCO's World Commission on Culture and Development, Our Creative Diversity, reveals some dilemmas concerning how to regard cultures which are incompatible with human rights. The Bangkok Declaration of 1993 gave rise to a debate about "Asian values", concerning whether universal human rights are contrary to Asian culture.These dilemmas pose important questions about the normative value of existing cultures and the plausibility of universal rights - and whether such accounts can be provided without relying on objectionably 'Western' premises.
The paper sketches some aspects of such a theory, drawing on a conception of liberal contractualism that does not regard individuals as fundamentally autonomous. The main focus is the proper grounds and scope of protection of culture, accounting for the normative significance of local cultural belonging. It is argued that Kymlicka's and O'Neill's valuable contributions rely on a conception of the individual considered as agent, with a strong interest in holding open possibilities of choice. This assumption may be avoided by exploring the role of culture in shaping expectations, thus deflecting the criticism of a Western bias.
If this account is accepted, it suggests that at least three issues in UNESCOs report require clarification: The value of culture need not be based on a conception of persons as centrally concerned with autonomy; The reasons for valuing culture may not require that pluralism must be lauded; The endorsement of corporatism requires further argument.
Keywords: global ethics, culture, political theory, The Bangkok Declaration of 1993, UNESCO
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