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Buddhism and Aristotle on Human Rights

ISSN 1076—9005
Volume 8, 2001

Why the Dalai Lama Should Read Aristotle

Stephen McCarthy
Northern Illinois University

The purpose of this paper is to discover a classical foundation for the establishment of universal human rights in Buddhism. Such a foundation must necessarily overcome the modern barrier imposed by the Asian values rhetoric and its claims that “Western,” Lockean, and essentially private ideas of rights have no place in Asian “family-oriented” culture. To facilitate its purpose, this paper will consider the modern, Lockean understanding of “rights” as the source of much of the Asian values’ argument, and proceed to an examination into the compatibility of a Buddhist understanding of human rights with Aristotle’s understanding of ethics and natural law. If it is possible to discover the source of universal human rights in Aristotle’s writings, as well as discover a compatibility to Buddhist beliefs and practices, then we may ground a case for the idea of human rights existing prior to their modern Lockean origins and accessible to Buddhism.

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