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Regarding the universality of human rights — a few wise words from Italian philosopher Vittorio Possenti.

On the ground of the unity and universa­lity of human essence, no one can be more or less a human being than someone else. Since essence does not admit of degrees, it follows that no human being possesses more or less dignity than any other man. Assumptions like these can be refused from an empiricist and nominalist point of view, in which knowledge is reduced to sensations and the reality of essence is denied; only indivi­duals exist in the world, and essences are mere inventions of the mind. If we are not able to show that in the Declarations of human rights, even though born in the West, there are universal instances valid for everyone, the criticism that sees in them an idea valid only in the West, remains intact.

Now, just that proof has become difficult, because in post-modern culture a kind of rebellion towards the requirement of universality and especially against universal moral principles is expressed, under the banner of a wide-spread refusal of ethical cognitivism and of the natural law. The situation could be summed up in the judgment by which the rationalist school, after having put aside the theism in grounding human rights, and having based them on the principle of autonomy in the Kantian sense–no longer seems able to defend their rationality, while it is in trouble in asserting their universality.

The mere statement of essentialism is not enough, if the knowledge of an essence is understood in an ahistorical way. The grasping of an essence flows from abstraction, but after this mind can consider without restrictions individuals in their local communities, different traditions and cultures. It should not be forgotten that the knowledge of an essence is neither adequate nor exhaustive. No kind of knowledge is closed, but always in development. Essentialism should support at the same time universality of human rights and the local and cultural development of the person: essentialism is a guideline for freedom, not a path to uniformity, which could be produced by mass-media global village.

In today challenges to human rights coming from ethnocen­trism, feminism and local culturalism, they place too much emphasis on difference due to culture and sex, and disregard identity flowing from human essence. This assumption, connected to nominalism and empiricism, leads to the deep individualism of the postmodern view, where a kind of social and historical construction of the self, dependent on factors such as gender, sex, race, wealth, family, local traditions, is affirmed. If the doctrine that rights are cultural, historical and local, expands to the expenses of the idea of an universal human nature with universal inherent rights, then the very possibility of a cosmopolitical law, of a worldwide political ethics based on natural law and human rights, is destroyed, and perhaps the primary ground for international political progress is subtrac­ted.

Didzis Melbiksis

Multilingual citizen. Europe, Sweden, media, politics.

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