Moral universalism

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Not to be confused with Moral absolutism.

Moral universalism (also called moral objectivism or universal morality) is the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for "all similarly situated individuals",[1] regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other distinguishing feature.[2] Moral universalism is opposed to moral nihilism and moral relativism. However, not all forms of moral universalism are absolutist, nor are they necessarily value monist; many forms of universalism, such as utilitarianism, are non-absolutist, and some forms, such as that of Isaiah Berlin, may be value pluralist.

In addition to the theories of moral realism, moral universalism includes other cognitivist moral theories, such as the subjectivist ideal observer theory and the divine command theory, and also the non-cognitivist moral theory of universal prescriptivism.[3][4]


According to R. W Hepburn, "To move towards the objectivist pole is to argue that moral judgements can be rationally defensible, true or false, that there are rational procedural tests for identifying morally impermissible actions, or that moral values exist independently of the feeling-states of individuals at particular times."[5]

Linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky states:

"if we adopt the principle of universality: if an action is right (or wrong) for others, it is right (or wrong) for us. Those who do not rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others—more stringent ones, in fact—plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of appropriateness of response; or of right and wrong, good and evil."[6]


The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be read as assuming a kind of moral universalism. The drafting committee of the Universal Declaration did assume, or at least aspired to, a "universal" approach to articulating international human rights. Although the Declaration has undeniably come to be accepted throughout the world as a cornerstone of the international system for the protection of human rights, a belief among some that the Universal Declaration does not adequately reflect certain important worldviews has given rise to more than one supplementary declaration, such as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and the Bangkok Declaration.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kemerling, Garth (November 12, 2011). "A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names". Philosophy Pages. According to Immanuel Kant and Richard Mervyn Hare...moral imperatives must be regarded as equally binding on everyone. 
  2. ^ Gowans, Chris (Dec 9, 2008). Edward N. Zalta, ed, ed. "Moral Relativism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition). Let us say that moral objectivism maintains that moral judgments are ordinarily true or false in an absolute or universal sense, that some of them are true, and that people sometimes are justified in accepting true moral judgments (and rejecting false ones) on the basis of evidence available to any reasonable and well-informed person. 
  3. ^ Non-cognitivism: A meta-ethical theory according to which moral issues are not subject to rational determination. Dealing with values, not facts, moral assertions are neither true nor false, but merely express attitudes, feelings, desires, or demands.Philosophy Pages
  4. ^ Prescriptivism: R. M. Hare's contention that the use of moral language conveys an implicit commitment to act accordingly. Thus, for example, saying that "Murder is wrong" not only entails acceptance of a universalizable obligation not to kill, but also leads to avoidance of the act of killing.Philosophy Pages
  5. ^ Hepburn, RW (January 2005). "Ethical objectivism and subjectivism". The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (2nd ed.). pp. 667 ff. ISBN 9780199264797. 
  6. ^ Chomsky, Noam (July 2, 2002). "Terror and Just Response". ZNet. 
  7. ^ "Article 29, Section 3". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations General Assembly. December 10, 1948. 

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