The article takes issue with a dominant characterisation of Western philosophy as
a culturally neutral procedural practice of rational arbitration, with reference to the
position of Steven Lukes. The relationship between this meta-philosophical position
and a culture-neutral normative conception of human rights is also put into question.
The author not only presents a criticism of Lukes’ position, drawing on the work
of the post-Marxian critical theorist Raymond Geuss, but also takes issue with the
alternative philosophical tradition of Socratic criticism, which Geuss holds up as an
alternative to the pure normative standpoint of applied philosophical ethics (the basis
for Lukes’ account of human rights). To mediate between these rival views on the
role and culture of philosophy, the final section of the article revisits Edmund Burke’s
conservative criticism of natural rights, arguing for the necessary precedence and
authority of recognised social customs for right rule, balanced by sceptical critique.