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30 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 305 (1998-1999)
How to Argue for a Universal Claim

handle is hein.journals/colhr30 and id is 323 raw text is: HOW TO ARGUE FOR A UNIVERSAL CLAIM
by Jeremy Waldron*
In the controversy about universality versus relativism, there are
three strategies to which defenders of universal human rights commonly
resort. Two of them involve the use of examples.
In the first strategy, we try to identify a form of oppression which
horrifies us and which we have reason to expect would horrify anyone from
any social or cultural background. Torture-particularly in its extreme
form-is perhaps the most common example. The example of torture works
well for this purpose because, although we are aware that torture remains
standard government practice in many societies, we are also aware that it is
known and intended to horrify those who hear about it, even in the cultures
and societies in which it is common. That is how it is intended by its
perpetrators-as a form of terror. It is not hard, therefore, to argue from the
standard, predictable abhorrence of torture in every culture and every society
to its condemnation as a universal moral evil. Everyone fears torture and
every torturer or authorizer of torture expects and hopes to be feared by
victims and potential victims in his society. No one is going to accuse
opponents of torture of applying their own parochial sentiments to societies
in which those sentiments are not widely shared.
Moreover, although moral and political arguments which might
justify torture in extreme situations are imaginable-i.e., the famous
hypothetical of the terrorist who has planted a nuclear device in a large city
and refuses to tell us where it is-the reasoning that is used in those
examples is familiar in all societies.' And the defects in that reasoning are
*     Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law, Columbia University. B.A, Otago
University, New Zealand (1974); LL.B., Otago University, New Zealand (1978); D.Phil.,
Oxford University (1986).
1.   See e.g., Alan Gewirth, Are There Any Absolute Rights?, in Theories of Rights
91, 99 (Jeremy Waldron ed., 1984) (considering hypothetical of terrorists threatening to
detonate nuclear bomb in large city). See also Jeremy Waldron, The Law (1990) (discussing
real-world justifications for torture).

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