Chapter

The Argument by Natural Law

Arvind Sharma

in Are Human Rights Western?

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780195679489
Published online October 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199081714 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195679489.003.0004
The Argument by Natural Law

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This chapter examines the argument by natural law in light of the claim that human rights are Western. It could be argued that human rights are Western in the sense that Islam is ‘Muhammedan’ — that is, it is related to the West as a defining feature, just as Islam is related to the Prophet as its defining feature, its Prophet and the Prophet. The parallel in the case of the West would be provided by the concept of natural law. In fact, many natural law theorists claim that the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is an expression of this tradition. And this tradition could be a defining feature of the West. Originating in the Periclean Age, this tradition travelled down through Plato and Aristotle. The idea entered Christian thought in the Patristic Age, and in medieval times became the basis of both civil and religious law. Of course, a basic difficulty in relating natural law to human rights consists in the fact that whereas the basic postulate of human rights is human equality, which presupposes uniformity in matters of law and morals, natural law, although it should produce the same result, has typically failed to do so. It could be argued that only in the modern times have we evolved some common concept of what it means to be human and that the doctrine of human rights would, in earlier ages, have produced different results depending on one’s understanding of what it meant to be human.

Keywords: human rights; natural law; Islam; United Nations Declaration of Human Rights; Plato and Aristotle; Periclean Age; Patristic Age; civil and religious law; human equality

Chapter.  3730 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration

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