The Tragic Foundations of Human Rights


The longing for a theoretical foundation to support the aspiration for universal (international) human rights always precedes the construction of any particular foundation. This essay examines the longing for foundations in its relation to the truth of universal human suffering. Using the phenomenological method, it uncovers a certain moment of distress that shows itself in the form of longing for the constant presence of an authoritative ground that would obscure universal suffering and give focus to the phenomenon of infinite ethical responsibility that attends the I’s encounter with the suffering of others. Thought hungers for a responsibility-relieving warrant (A) for action (B) that underwrites the movement “A to B.” The essay suggests, in compassion, that awakening to the real problem of human suffering requires a quasi-religious attention to the tragedy of universal human suffering, and a radicalized compassion that breaks free of all texts.


Human Rights Law

Date of this Version

February 2006