Social Philosophy Today
Many contemporary human rights theorists argue that we can establish the normative universality of human rights despite extensive cultural and moral diversity by appealing to the notion of overlapping consensus. In this paper I argue that proposals to ground the universality of human rights in overlapping consensus on the list of rights are unsuccessful. I consider an example from Islamic comprehensive doctrine in order to demonstrate that apparent consensus on the list of rights may not in fact constitute meaningful agreement and may not be sufficient to ground the universality of human rights. I conclude with some general suggestions for establishing the universality of human rights. Instead of presuming the universality of human rights based on apparent overlapping consensus we need to construct universality through actual dialogue both within and between communities.