In What Way Are Human Rights Abstract? Or how to turn exceptions into examples

Stefanie Rosenmüller


This paper looks at judgement deficits in the interpretation of human rights and how they can be rectified. Arendt's famous critique of human rights in her book on totalitarianism explains the failure of human rights with their 'abstractness'.

In her late text fragment Das Urteilen (Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy), she developed three aspects of being human, whereby the category ‘earthbound creatures' (‘Erdenbewohner’) is the only one that conceives of humans as concrete and plural living beings. In my view this category should guide the interpretation of human rights and avert the dangers of abstraction and rule rigidity in two corrective steps:

In her book On Revolution Arendt interprets the Aristotelian phronesis as having a 'sense of the world' (Weltsinn). In a first step, phronesis functions as a corrective in the application of rules in law and in everyday practice. Reflective judgement from Kant's Critique of Judgment comes into play in the second step: it corrects Arendt's determinant judgement retrospectively with the three maxims of common sense. From examples it can also draft new rules for new and marginalized forms of life and thus reduce people’s stigmatization as 'exceptions' and as 'superfluous' humanity.




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