“There are no mysteries about human rights; a human right will exist when there are those who are at stake, when there are needs for the protections of certain values, values of personhood.” This explanation eclipsed a debate that has sparked over two questions: How can we tell a genuine human right? How do we establish the content of a particular human right?
Within his lecture Professor Griffin outlined the difficulties in the relativity of human rights, questioning the universal nature of rights developed in a western culture.
Combining his expatriate dry wit with examples ranging from the human right to life and euthanasia to the extreme case of counting blades of grass, Griffin expounded on the difficulties of the term ‘human rights’, citing that different societies would have different policies and approaches.
Within his research Griffin has explored different ethical approaches. “I argued that some ethical judgements, namely judgements about human interests are objective, not dependent on a person’s subjective state, desires or attitudes but upon considerations which would lead all rational persons to the same conclusion.” From this Griffin, clarified that “Ethical relativism does not stand alone, it is relative to basic evaluations.”
Just how relative are human rights to western culture? “There are two ways to bring about an unforced human rights agreement; one would be to put the case of human rights as best we can from the sources of western tradition and hope that the easterner will look into the case and be attracted by what they find. The other would be to search for the ethical beliefs of other non-western concepts to provide a local justification for human rights.”
Griffin finally questioned the role of cultures; “as members of societies we tend to exaggerate the differences between other societies… it is by no means clear that any of us are a part of a culture, let alone which culture.” Despite, as Griffin’s expresses; “Human rights are not relative”, perhaps we as a result of law are led to exaggerate the problem of ethnocentricity within our modern culture.