Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Universal Morality

After reading and discussing Lynch's article, I must agree with Jonathon that he certainly provides a different and interesting perspective on international relations. I'm not convinced that what he does is a separate theory, but it is a fascinating line of thought. Questioning the motives, causes, and effects of everything in international relations is important (even if you believe as I do that the answer always comes back to power).

That is why I find it so intriguing that Lynch fails to question universal morality. As I said earlier, he seems to accept it as objective truth. In his mind, there are apparently a few moral standards that all people all over the world believe and accept, or should accept. Lynch does not question these. In fact he doesn't really outline what any of these standards are, making it impossible for others to question them. So instead of attacking the standards individually, I am forced to question them as a group.

The biggest question is "how were these standards arrived at?" Did they come out of some form of consensus? If so, who was involved in this consensus? If states were involved then how can states create a consensus for individuals? If states are not human how can they truly create consensus on human rights? Did every state agree or was it a majority? Who gave this consensus the power to impose human rights or moral standards?

The questions are truly endless and can often have intriguing answers. But Lynch does not go into them. And the simple reason he does not is that they are unanswerable. Critical theorists say that everything is subjective, but they cling to objective notions of universal morality and human rights. These ideas are simply incompatible. Lynch does not question universal morality because to do so would undermine his objectives in promoting universal morality. To use his own tools against himself, would force him to admit that his ideas are no stronger or more defensible than the people he attacks critically. If everything is subjective, then everything truly is subjective, even universal morality. Someone at some time enforced their will or power upon someone else and in doing so coerced them into acceptance of the powerful actors ideas. A chain reaction followed and then consensus was built.

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