Toward a Phenomenology of Human Rights
Our conception of human rights has been distorted by the politics surrounding the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This essay takes as its starting-point our experience of human rights which, following Levinas, should be understood primarily as the rights of the other. Although one can always make specific demands of others on one’s own behalf, these demands do not of themselves constitute a right, nor do they establish a corresponding duty on the part of others. Our primary experience of rights lies in our sense that certain injustices suffered by others are intolerable, and that we cannot rest until those injustices are addressed. A quotation from Mengzi shows that this conception, unlike the standard account, does not rely on presuppositions drawn from the liberal tradition of political philosophy but in a concrete understanding of our relation to others that is not limited to any single tradition.