Law and Critique

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 73–106

Ethics of Emotions as Ethics of Human Rights: A Jurisprudence of Sympathy in Adorno, Horkheimer and Rorty


DOI: 10.1007/s10978-006-0003-y

Cite this article as:
Barreto, J.M. Law Critique (2006) 17: 73. doi:10.1007/s10978-006-0003-y


This article considers in a different light the relationship between legal theory and ethics by means of an interpretation of the thought of Adorno and Horkheimer, and of the writings of Richard Rorty, as two moments of a marginal stream of ethics of passions that runs beneath the history of rationalist Western philosophy. It departs from the critique of Modernity as a dialectic of barbarism and civilisation, and from a genealogy of Auschwitz that finds its antecedents in Kantian morality. It also characterises modern culture as one of apathy and bourgeois stoicism, and establishes a link between the cold modern ethos and the dynamics of Nazi hardness. The article turns then to a consideration of some of the responses to the comprehensive crisis of Modernity: the imperative ‘Auschwitz never again’, Adorno’s ‘general enlightenment’ and Horkheimer’s ethics of sympathy. Finally it reflects upon Rorty’s proposal of sentimental education as an effective strategy to foster a human rights culture in Postmodernity, with the aim of bridging the tradition of moral sentiments and contemporary struggles for human rights.


AdornoAuschwitzcrisis of modernityHorkheimerhuman rightsKantmoral sentimentsRortysentimental educationsympathy

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Law, BirkbeckUniversity of LondonLondon