The ongoing tension between relativism and universalism in debates over international human rights

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The ongoing tension between relativism and universalism in debates over international human rights provides another crucial piece of the puzzle in understanding the gap between rhetoric and reality in the promotion of health as a human right. As we will see, this tension is connected in integral ways to the conceptual challenges that hinder global consensus on human rights, outlined in the previous section. Universalism is a perspective that suggests that moral values are—or should be—the same across time and space. Applied to human rights, universalism suggests that fundamental human rights are the same, irrespective of particular historical, religious, cultural, or another social context. Relativism is a perspective based on the belief that moral values are—or should be—contingent on specific historical, religious, cultural, or other social contexts. A relativist perspective on human rights suggests that definitions and interpretations of human rights vary across cultures and societies.

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