notion of human rights asserts a principle that every individual,
anywhere, has ‘legitimate claims upon
his/her society for certain freedoms and benefits’ (Henkin 1989)1.These
claims are not privileges but moral entitlements of which it is the duty of all
others to uphold and respect (Macklem2015).
Theories on the basis and framework for such rights have long been explored
through the fields of ethics; also referred to as moral philosophy. This branch
of knowledge seeks to establish the moral principles that govern human behavior.
exist two main schools of thought within the field of ethics. Deontologists and
Consequentialist. . Credited as being the
foremost proponent of duty based ethics; The
17th century German philosopher Immanuel The 17th century
German philosopher advanced a deontological approach to morality.
He disagreed with the consequentialist school of thought which held that the
moral worth of an action was subjective to its outcome, whereby the ‘ends justify the means’.
theory purported that the consequence of an action could justify it, a desirable
outcome was considered as the greater good
and was the most important determinant of an actions moral worth. As a
deontologist Kant rejected such notion and felt that consequences could not
validate an action as moral but that moral judgement existed within the action itself.
Kant asserted that morality could not be considered subjective in the same way
that reality could not be deemed subjective; as morality also be located
through rationality. He argued that there existed a single moral truth; and
that all moral judgments are supported by rationality. He theorised the
existence of a single objective moral law which he classified as the
Categorical Imperative. According to Kant this moral law was universal, nonnegotiable,
and absolutely applicable in all contexts and time.As a moral absolutist;according
actions were either right or wrong, moral or immoral, and their consequences
could not determine their moral worth.
case for a universal conceptualisation of human rights is reliant upon the
existence of a universal ethical value system, more over a single universal morality.
This then begets the enquiry of how this single morality is derived. Is it
learnt, or innate? Are its origins external or internal? (Mizzoni, 2017). Any
case for the principle of universality must contend with the idea that people
are varied and possess diverse attributes which inform their conception of a
moral law, by which they classify actions. Kant was able to provide a strong case
for a moral philosophy which could be deemed universal, which relied on the
intellect alone. We can analyze the basis for Kant’s universal morality framework
through the breakdown of the first formula of his Categorical Imperative. The work of Kant has been credited
with providing the ethical basis for the association between ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ which stands as the corner stone of human rights
theory. This paper will explore Kant’s deontological interpretations of
morality through his Categorical Imperative theory concluding that it provides
the best ethical framework for the universality of human rights.