The Limits of Ethics in International Relations: Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Human Rights in Transition

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Ethical constraints on relations among individuals within and between societies have always reflected or invoked a higher authority than the caprices of human will. For over two thousand years Natural Law and Natural Rights were the constellations of ideas and presuppositions that fulfilled this role in the west, and exhibited far greater similarities than most commentators want to admit. Such ideas were the lens through which Europeans evaluated the rest of the world. In his major new book David Boucher rejects the view that Natural Rights constituted a secularization of Natural Law ideas by showing that most of the significant thinkers in the field, in their various ways, believed that reason leads you to the discovery of your obligations, while God provides the ground for discharging them. Furthermore, The Limits of Ethics in International Relations maintains that Natural Rights and Human Rights are far less closely related than is often asserted because Natural Rights never cast adrift the religious foundationalism, whereas Human Rights, for the most part, have jettisoned the Christian metaphysics upon which both Natural Law and Natural Rights depended. Human Rights theories, on the whole, present us with foundationless universal constraints on the actions of individuals, both domestically and internationally. Finally, one of the principal contentions of the book is that these purportedly universal rights and duties almost invariably turn out to be conditional, and upon close scrutiny end up being 'special' rights and privileges as the examples of multicultural encounters, slavery and racism, and women's rights demonstrate.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"All in all, the book is an impressive achievement. In particular, Boucher's nuanced assessment of positions, the scope of his study and his sympathetic treatment of the British Idealists deserve mention."—Political Studies Review

"David Boucher has written a splendid book. It is to be praised for its breadth as well as for its insight...This is an important book which advances an important argument that deserves serious attention."—nternational Affairs

"David Boucher's The Limits of Ethics in International Relations is the result of eleven years hard work. It shows a degree of ambition that is unfortunately rare in the current REF-driven environment, in terms of the period that it covers (from the Ancient Greeks to the present), the length of the book and the level of scholarship. The result is a deeply impressive achievement, containing a wealth of original and nuanced interpretation, especially in the chapters on modern political thought. The Limits of Ethics in International Relations is a remarkable book that develops an ambitious, intelligent, well-informed and original argument on a topic of fundamental contemporary importance."—Kantian Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199203529
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/26/2009
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Boucher is Professor of Political Philosophy and International Relations at Cardiff University, Adjunct Professor of International Relations at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and Director of the Collingwood and British Idealism Centre, Cardiff. He has written widely on British Idealism, history of political thought, international relations theory, and popular culture. Among his books are The Social and Political Thought of R. G. Collingwood; The Political Theory of International Relations (OUP 1998); British Idealism and Political Theory; and Dylan and Cohen: Poets of Rock and Roll. Among his edited books are, The Social Contract and Its Critics ; The British Idealists; The Scottish Idealists; R. G. Collingwood, The Philosophy of Enchantment (OUP 2005, with Wendy James and Phillip Smallwood).

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Table of Contents

1. Classical Natural Law and the Law of Nations: The Greeks and The Romans
2. Christian Natural Law
3. Natural Law, The Law of Nations and the Transition to Natural Rights
4. Natural Rights and Social Exclusion: Cultural Encounters
5. Natural Rights: Descriptive and Prescriptive
6. Natural Rights and Their Critics
7. Slavery and Racism in Natural Law and Natural Rights
8. Nonsense Upon Stilts? Tocqueville, Idealism and the Expansion of the Moral Community
9. The Human Rights Culture and its Discontents
10. Modern Constitutive Theories of Human Rights
11. Human Rights and the Juridical Revolutions
12. Women and Human Rights

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