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Back to Basics: Human Rights and the Suffering Imperative

Fagan, A (2008) 'Back to Basics: Human Rights and the Suffering Imperative.' Essex Human Rights Review, 5 (1). pp. 91-96. ISSN 1756-1957


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Anniversaries provide a conventionally appropriate opportunity to take stock and, where necessary, to remind ourselves of why we hold to the commitments we do. All too often the raison d?etre of any collective human venture can be lost amidst the sheer banality of daily doing what we do and pursuing the goals we have become accustomed to. The question we often forget to ask ourselves is the following: why should we care? Expressed more specifically, one may ask, why do you care about the human rights of others and why should others care about your human rights? Fear not, this short piece will not attempt to reinvent the wheel of human rights theory. Nor am I in a position to definitively settle enduring questions concerning the validity and veracity of the ultimate justifications offered in support of a commitment to human rights principles tout court. My motive is far more modest and intellectually circumspect; having said that, this piece is driven by a distinct ambition. In taking stock of current debates in human rights theory, I shall argue that we are in danger of losing sight of the ethical imperative of human suffering in our discussions about the form and content of human rights in the contemporary world. The cornerstone of human rights must be a concern for human suffering. This amounts to an ethical truism for human rights theorists but despite, perhaps even because of this, it has been obscured from view in much theoretical reflection upon human rights as an ethical, legal, political and, increasingly, cultural doctrine. This piece takes the reflexive opportunities afforded by the spirit of anniversary to re-focus attention upon the basis and strength of our motivations and invites a return to the ethical basics of a commitment to human rights. In so doing, I aim to make a theoretical case for an appreciation of what might be referred to as a pre-theoretical impulse and motive. If human rights are to realise the promise of establishing the conditions for a world far less beset by human suffering, then the doctrine must address us at a level that does not immediately succumb to the contingency of conceptual verbiage and political opportunism.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > Law, School of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 24 Oct 2012 09:01
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 13:25

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