Buddhist Compassion as a Foundation for Human Rights

Social Philosophy Today 21:95-108 (2005)
The basic philosophical question underlying the Asian values debates is whether human rights represent a universal moral concern applicable to humans in every culture or whether they are simply another form of Western imperialism. While most of the philosophical work on this issue has focused on Confucian and Marxist elements, there is a growing interest in tackling the topic from a Buddhist perspective. This paper evaluates Jay Garfield’s attempt to reconcile Buddhist ethics with Western-style human rights. Garfield endeavors to situate rights in a character-based normative theory of ethics grounded in the Buddhist sentiment ofcompassion. After locating Garfield’s account within the general confines of Buddhism, the paper assesses the resulting nature of the rights themselves. Unfortunately, Garfield’s version of rights does not retain the protective character of individual rights, the unique feature which largely explains their ever-increasing employment in the ethical, legal, and political discourse of modern societies
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