Abstract: The question of the universality of human rights has much in common with the question of the universality of ethics. In the form of a multidisciplinary reflexive survey, the aim of this article is to show how human rights discourses derive from more basic principles related to basic needs. These needs are the universal grammar for moral principles, which will be distinguished from ethical norms. Ethical norms, I will argue, are rules that develop in social groups to put into effect moral principles through communicative action and therefore develop as culturally specific norms, which guide behaviour within these social groups. This will explain why ethical norms contain some universal principles, but are largely culturally specific. In order to shed some light on the universality debate, I will show how moral principles translate into ethical norms and might manifest through communicative action in human rights law. For this purpose the article develops a socio-legal account on social norm-creation that bridges moral universality and legal universality via ethical pluralism, which in effect explains why despite the universality of moral principles, the outcomes of ethical rationales can vary extremely.
Keywords: discursive action; ethical pluralism; human rights; moral universalism