Human Rights Review

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 157–165 | Cite as

The Theory of Universal Human Rights: A Comment on Talbott

  • Carol C. GouldEmail author


In this analysis of William Talbott’s important book, I note with appreciation his defense of universal moral principles and of moral justification as a “social project,” his focus on the critique of oppression, and his emphasis on empathic understanding in the account of human rights. I go on to develop some criticisms regarding: 1) Talbott’s traditional understanding of human rights as holding against governments and not also applying to nonstate actors; 2) his account of the interrelations among well-being, autonomy, claims for first person authority in moral judgment, and human rights; 3) his strongly rationalist and liberal individualist interpretation of moral judgment and autonomy; and 4) the lack of a role for intercultural dialogue about human rights, which nonetheless are held to apply to all human beings across cultures. In each case, I briefly consider what an alternative approach would look like.


Moral Judgment Psychological Control Feminist Theorist Moral Justification Social Ontology 
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I would like to thank the participants in the original APA session for their helpful comments and especially my fellow panelists James Nickel, David Reidy, and William Talbott.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCenter for Global Ethics and Politics at Temple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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