Hermeneutic Thinking on the Subject of Human Rights: Four Perspectives
October 16,2021   By:CSHRS
Hermeneutic Thinking on the Subject of Human Rights: Four Perspectives
GAO Lijie*
Abstract: From the view of human rights hermeneutics, the interpretation of the human rights subject can be understood as the philosophical foundation of human rights. As the rights of “Ego” and “Another”, human rights will be rid of the supreme power of the “God” and “Nation”, while it dooms the dilemma of solipsism and hegemony. As the right of “the Other”, human rights will correspond to the reality of political pluralism, however that theory appears to be too deconstructive and may lead to human rights nihilism. By accepting the continuity between individuality and community, a more feasible and non-exclusive approach is to adopt the idea of “Self” to better understand the nature of human rights, thus avoiding extreme human rights universality and relativism.
Keywords: subject of human rights · ego ·another · the other ·self
Generally speaking, human rights theory consists of two parts: the content of human rights and the subject of human rights.1 Discussions on the content of human rights often involve the origin of human rights. Western theories of human rights generally include natural rights, legal rights, and social rights. Based on these theories, Chinese scholars have put forward such theories as “human rights obtained through struggle”, “human rights endowed by the state”, “human rights endowed by business”, and “human rights endowed by existence.”2 Arguments about the subject of human rights focus on the human-citizen, individual-collective, and life-personality divergences 3 and discuss the connotations and extension of the concept of the subject of human rights from the perspectives of the history of ideas, legislative science,social effects, and political intentions.
The preceding theories are cognition of the content and subject of human rights,while the theories of human rights from the perspective of philosophical hermeneutics are the ontology of understanding instead of epistemology. This ontology reverses the external orientation of object-based epistemology. It is oriented to oneself and “imagines oneself in this ontology.”4 In other words, hermeneutics holds that the true way to comprehend an object is to understand oneself. From the perspective of hermeneutics, neither the content of human rights nor the subject of human rights can be acquired through “cognition”, no matter whether the cognitive object is human nature or history. The understanding of human rights can only originate from the interpretation of how the subject exists. This is a kind of subject hermeneutics of human rights, which observes the subject as a being, not merely the subject of rights.It not only includes the theories of the subject of human rights but also unites these theories and those of the content of human rights. It involves thinking about the origin of human rights.
Theories on the origin of human rights from the view of subject hermeneutics do not conflict with theories on the origin and subject of human rights in any “cognitive” sense. In fact, all theories on human rights presuppose some kind of subject hermeneutics. Theories of human rights based on the abstract nature of humans imply the “abstract nakedness”5 of the subject. They hold that “what we had previously understood as ‘human rights’ were, in fact, civil, not human rights”6 and emphasize that theories of human rights from a political perspective imply that the subject exists according to a special “identity”. They reveal the theory on the “shift from politics to morality”7 of the concept of human rights and imply the shift of the subject from special existence to concrete universal existence. It can be said that each theory of human rights corresponds to a certain understanding of the subject, and vice versa.The origin of human rights can be classified according to four perspectives of subject hermeneutics: ego, another, the other, and self.
I. Theory on the Subject of Human Rights Seeking the Rights of Ego
Among various philosophical interpretations of the origin of human rights, there is a theory on the subject of human rights that sanctifies the power of ego as the subject over the object, regards humans as the absolute subject, and understands human rights as the logical necessity of the absolute subject. This viewpoint upholds dignity, purpose, humanity, and other inherent values of humans, which make humans naturally the wisest of all creatures and the spiritual center of the universe. The theory of natural rights, which occupies an important position in the history of Western human rights concept, is exactly a product of anthropocentrism. The idea of human subjectivity as self-evident knowledge emerged in the 17th century and was almost mature at the peak of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Human is a self sufficient subject. Rousseau preaches that man is born free. The US Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen regards both liberty and equality as unconditional rights that are born of men. In short, in this era, “the essence of all the principles of political rights is that human rights are innate, and therefore are inalienable and nontransferable. This is the case for Locke, Rousseau, and the two declarations in the United States and France respectively.”8
What justifies innate human rights? From Machiavelli in the 16th century to Rousseau in the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers focused on the humanistic spirit in ancient Greece and the Hellenistic period. In that era, the attention to and ethical care for humans, which was initiated by Socrates and inherited by the Epicureans and the Stoics, influenced Roman law and gave birth to the long-established thought of natural law. Later, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and others systematized this thought into a self-evident, eternal value system. The concept of natural law inevitably implies a non-transferable natural rights — human rights. There is no need to figure out whether human rights were generated by political needs or contributed to political transformation. The thought of natural law provided a solid ideological foundation for human rights discourse in this period.
A question that follows is: how was natural law discovered and became universally accepted knowledge? Philosophical hermeneutics thinks that our knowledge and truth are essentially interpretations. Natural law and natural rights are no exception. Their truth comes from a general understanding of the actual situation and a general interpretation of social conditions. Natural law and natural rights are essentially derived from our view of the world, no matter whether it is based on introspection or experience and no matter whether reason or intuition is used. Kant said: “Nothing can be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except goodwill.”9 However, the question is: where does the goodwill that is the basis of morality come from? Kant had to admit that the answer to this question does not lie in reason, but can only be sought from “philosophical anthropology,” namely, “although I do not yet see what this respect is based upon (this the philosopher may investigate), I at least understand this much: that it is an estimation of a worth that far outweighs any worth of what is recommended by inclination.”10 That is to say, the original motive for goodwill cannot be testified by reason, but can only originate from the interpretations of man.
It can be said that human rights, which are rooted in the traditions of natural law, are an interpretation of the situation of man as the absolute subject. During the centuries of conceptual evolution from the Renaissance and the Reformation to the Enlightenment, humans were gradually separated from God and Nation, and human rights were also gradually separated from divine rights and sovereignty. However, “human” and “ego” are synonymous in this sense. According to modern philosophy since Descartes, humans are understood as spiritual ego and the subject of human rights. In the sense of epistemology, “ego”, by virtue of the directness of perception, controls the discourse on inner and outer experience, thus forming the basis of the entire knowledge system of Solipsism. This is the main characteristic of modern philosophy. Even Husserl still thinks that “As the ego, I have a surrounding world, which is continually ‘existing for me’.”11 In fact, philosophers still regard the ego as the origin of all existence — “Cartesian Meditations is the most radical expression of this kind of neo-idealism. This neo-idealism holds that the world is not only ‘for me’, but also draws all its ontological validity from ‘ego’.”12 The direct giving of experience is transformed into a value judgment of subject supremacy. This is an important characteristic of the ego in philosophy since Descartes. Therefore, Foucault believes that the Cartesian era is the era when “care for the self” was transformed into “care for the self’s objectivity.”13 This concept of a self-sufficient subject leads to the concealment of the other by ego, leads to humans’ indifference to the world and nature, and leads to the suppression of universal value against pluralistic value.
If the concept of human rights is derived from the Cartesian interpretation of ego, it is difficult for this concept of human rights to get rid of the dilemma of the Cartesian solipsism and dogmatism in epistemology — How can an indigenous concept of human rights legitimately claim universality? What Costas Douzina criticized is exactly this concept of human rights based on the interpretation of ego. According to him, “There is a great paradox at the heart of human rights: Rights are developed in Western legal traditions, and Western countries claim that they are universal.”14 The Western concept of human rights is based on the self-image of the “superior white male” and presupposes the universality and moral justification of this image. Western interpretations of ego are packed in the discourse of human rights and have become the best rhetoric of cultural colonialism and political hegemony. “The belief in universality in the Western view of the world is still as strong as the belief in colonialism. Neoliberalism, good governance, and low-intensity democracy for export are all present expressions of Western cultural packing. Like all previous expressions, they are both redemptive and aggressive. They promise the best but often deliver the worst.”15
II. Theory on the Subject of Human Rights Inheriting the Rights of Another
The second theory bases the concept of human rights on the interpretation of society and regards human rights as the legalization of various social realities. From Montesquieu to Burke, and then to the German Historical School of Jurisprudence,there is another theory on the origin of human rights besides the theory of natural rights. This viewpoint holds that the concept of human rights is not endowed to us in a transcendental way. Instead, it is discovered by us in the course of evolving within traditional customs, political life, and community culture. This theory believes that the concept of human rights does not come from a transcendental concept of ego, but from a sociohistorical reality outside of ego. However, in the modern context of ego inflation, the attempt to base human rights on a sociohistorical reality cannot break away from solipsism or break out of this established way of thinking.
The viewpoint of interpreting the source of human rights as a socio-historical reality no longer confines the subject to the individual. It emphasizes the historical social existence as the substrate of the subject, which is laudable. However, social history itself cannot explain the emergence and evolution of legal phenomena and the concept of human rights. It is a circular argument to discover law in law and human rights in human rights. It is impossible to produce new things or new changes. Unless law and human rights are derived from other sources, history itself cannot be understood. Savigny hit the mark with a single comment: “History is no longer just a collection of examples, but the only way to truly understand our conditions.”16 Since it is impossible to explain the evolution of history, ego must go back to the theory of historicism under the cloak of national spirit and traditional culture. In other words, people cannot comprehend themselves only through introspection and logical deduction. The value of history lies in that it is the necessary intermediary for us to truly comprehend ourselves. The essence of the issue is that just as we cannot comprehend human rights without society and history, the human rights of history and society cannot be understood without ego.
How then does historicism comprehend and discover human rights? Historicists point out that “the common consciousness of the people is the peculiar seat of law,”17 and social realities, such as traditions, customary law, and political practices, are the externalization of the consciousness of nationality. The consciousness of nationality comes from people’s self-identity or the identity between people. That is to say, the so-called national spirit and collective consciousness is nothing but a magnified ego and a collection of multiple egos that have wiped out differences. Correspondingly,the interpretation of social realities is nothing but an interpretation of another ego or of another. Another is the copy of ego. It is another who is completely identical to and completely assimilated into ego. The differences between ego and others are eliminated. The nationality and the collective are nothing but a collection of multiple homogeneous egos. In essence, ego is not only before another but also before nationality and the collective. Therefore, this theory of human rights as an interpretation of another also advocates repressive human rights, since it does not consider the position of the opposite of the subject, nor does it consider the other which is concealed by ego. It is the interpretation of ego by “master” instead of “slave”. In history, humans’ cultural integration relied more on force than on natural evolution. The same is true with the formation of customary law and the concept of human rights, which is accompanied by violent or non-violent suppression of the ego against the other. Even if a sufficiently united group can be found to share a highly uniform concept of human rights, it is still unable to justify this social history. Unsurprisingly,a scholar has pointed out that “It would be wrong to claim that we, that is everyone, now live in a veritable age of human rights. The age of human rights remains a relatively rarefied property of the privileged few.”18 That is because of the solipsistic nature of human rights interpreted as ego and another and their suppression against
the other in the process of universalization.
III. Theory on the Subject of Human Rights Building the Rights of the Other
The third theory bases the concept of human rights on the other, which has been concealed in the history of ideas and regards the consent, acknowledgment, and even identification of the other as necessary conditions for human rights. In other words, the origin of human rights has changed from a subject concept to an interactive subject or intersubjectivity concept. The object of human rights interpretations has changed from ego to other. The way of interpreting human rights has changed from self-talk of the ego to dialogues and communication between subjects.
The real other cannot be reduced to another or ego. This alterity and irreducibility are major discoveries in the 20th century. Husserl regarded the other as a guaranteed tool of knowledge in his early days and believed that when people touch and observe an intended object, it is a strong proof, but the strongest proof needs the presence of others. “Only insofar as I experience that of others, who experience the same objects as myself, do I really experience these objects as objective and real.”19 Later,Husserl regarded the other not only as a subsidiary of epistemology but also as a fundamental so that the purpose of the entire Fifth Meditation is: “to understand how a philosophical system based on the principle and foundation of ‘I think, therefore I am’ interprets the other, which is different from I, and interprets everything that depends on this fundamental alterity.”20
The other is absolute heterogeneity, which cannot be fully comprehended by ego, and thus cannot be grasped by ego. It cannot be restored to ego like another;otherwise, absolute heterogeneity won’t exist. However, the purport of Husserl’s epistemology didn’t really make him get rid of the concealment of alterity by identity,because the logical starting point of epistemology is always identity. The other discovered by Husserl through the analogy between ego and ego body cannot get rid of the identity of ego, because the connotations of the other are a class within ego.
Emmanuel Levinas has put forward a more radical concept of the other than Husserl. According to Levinas, imagining the other as another to be a re-understanding of ego from the perspective of ego is precisely where Husserl did not get rid of the influence from Descartes. “Intelligibility, the very occurrence of representation, is the possibility for the other to be determined by the same without determining the same, without introducing alterity into it; it is a free exercise of the same. It is the disappearance, within the same, of the-I opposed to the non-I.”21 Levinas believes that it is impossible to understand the other under the purport of Husserl’s epistemology. In his opinion, this philosophical temperament is totality, a totality in the name of knowledge. However, the real alterity can hardly be called knowledge. It is always “the exception” and always tries to go beyond the knowledge and the totality. Therefore, for Levinas, the real alterity, which is active and free from assimilation and suppression, can only exist in infinity.
Since human rights as rights of the other are the interpretation of how infinite alterity exists in humans, the differences between this theory and the traditional ego theory of human rights are reflected in three aspects: First, otherness cannot be thoroughly grasped or comprehended. When ego encroaches on the other in the way of understanding or identification, the real other has retreated and remains in a completely heterogeneous realm. Therefore, human rights are not an established system of ideas but an infinite generation of ideas. Second, ego doesn’t have precedence over the non-I in both logic and value. Therefore, the human rights acquired by interpreting the existence of the other cannot provide an effective critique of human rights. Third, the meaning of ego is provided by the other, not the other way around. The other is a teacher that is forever followed by ego. The true other is infinite and cannot be grasped. The other that is comprehended, mastered, and assimilated is nothing but the other or another I, and can never be the other. The other will always remain mystical and fresh to same (the assimilated being) and serve as a source of knowledge to same forever. Therefore, the theory of human rights based on the other holds that conflicts over the concept of human rights are inevitable, but they are not necessarily a bad thing and may not need to be immediately resolved.
Just as the otherness of the other is absolute alterity, the human rights as the rights of the other also have absolute alterity. This concept of human rights can overcome the predicament of the Cartesian concept of human rights. The concept of human rights of the other denies the attempt of universal human rights and thinks that the essence of all universal concepts of human rights is totality no matter which category such a concept falls into. However, it is now an indisputable pluralist fact that a well-ordered society in which all its members accept the same comprehensive doctrine is impossible.22 Imposing a general concept of human rights itself means suppressing and leveling otherness and means indifference and violence to others. There is insurmountable alterity between social groups and cultural communities, and they are the other to one another. No one can override the absolute otherness, and any interpretation of the human rights of the other is meddling in the affairs of another. The concept of human rights as the rights of the other means the diversity of human rights ideas and provides ideological support for the pluralism of human rights discourse.
However, the overemphasis on the “otherness” of human rights inevitably leads to a question: how can pluralistic human rights discourses avoid “talking past each other”? How is it possible to exchange, acknowledge, and even criticize the heterogeneous concepts of human rights? Human rights without any standard are infeasible. As James Griffin says: “The term ‘human right’ is nearly criterionless. There are unusually few criteria for determining when the term is used correctly and when incorrectly — not just among politicians, but among philosophers, political theorists, and jurisprudents as well. The language of human rights has, in this way, become debased.”23 Moreover, just like the outcome of one-sided emphasis on the identity of human rights, one-sided emphasis on the absolute otherness of human rights will also lead to a moral crisis. The former focuses on the pretentious paternalism discourse and the practice of cultural and political imperialism, while the latter on the impassioned rhetoric of collectivism and the moral corruption of relativism and nihilism. The nihilism of human rights has become a very serious problem at present, which is manifested in two aspects: On the one hand, human rights have not brought substantive protection for Rwandans that were brutalized 20 years ago or the Syrian refugees still stationed on the borders of Europe. The pluralism of human rights standards weakens the sense of moral responsibility of relevant countries, so pluralistic human rights discourses have become the last fig leaf for hypocritical civilized countries. On the other hand, the prevalence of heterogeneous concepts of human rights hinders the efforts made by many developing countries to protect human rights. Developing countries have a set of human rights discourse suitable for their own actualities, but due to the heterogeneity of pluralistic concepts of human rights, it is difficult for them to be recognized by other countries. This situation is unfavorable for them to gain international recognition and participate in international activities, making it difficult for them to get rid of the status of being discriminated against culturally and economically. Therefore, it is necessary to continue to search for a more reasonable theory on the subject of human rights to gain a more explanatory and practical understanding and interpretation of human rights.
IV. Theory on the Subject of Human Rights Understanding the Rights of “Self”
The contemporary predicament of human rights is that it cannot be understood as the rights of ego and another or as the rights of the other. If we understand human rights from the perspective of ego, it is difficult for us to get rid of the Western liberal discourse on human rights and to resist the simplicity and rudeness of universalism. Even if we take a step back by acknowledging the importance of human rights concepts and discourses and admitting that a certain universal concept of human rights is especially necessary from a practical point of view, such a concept of human rights cannot necessarily be generated from the concept of a closed ego, because, under the premises of pluralistic facts, “human rights are considered a universally valid concept. They must be theoretically open and culturally unrestricted. The failure of natural rights in theoretical legitimacy is especially manifested in the self-destructive logic it contains.”24 If we understand human rights from the perspective of the other, it is difficult for us to truly shoulder the inherent requirements of human rights discourses to protect the basic rights of everyone (especially disadvantaged groups), because in practice, human rights must ultimately be enforced on each acting individual and each ego. We cannot passively expect the other or others to protect the human rights of others and ourselves.
How can this problem be solved with the best of both worlds? One feasible way is to understand human rights as the rights of “soi-même/self” that is between I/ego and the other. The reflexive pronoun “self” is a metaphor for a particular way of existence. On the one hand, it is not a subject, and it is not used as a subject to give meaning to the object. Instead, it is given meaning as an object by other subjects, just like that self as a being is not in the position of an absolute subject. It acknowledges that the world constructs it. On the other hand, it is a variant of the subject and a weakened and fragmented subject rather than nihility. It can bear corresponding moral responsibilities in function. In this way, self becomes a being between ego and the other.
As we have seen, although Husserl has recognized the predicament of solipsism in phenomenology and emphasized intersubjectivity and life-world, he cannot abandon the abstract subject or the philosophy on the subject within the overall framework of transcendental phenomenology. Therefore, “Husserl’s phenomenology will be subject to two diametrically opposite requirements: on the one hand, it must be restored to the end and persevere with such a risky action as constructing another within and from the ego; on the other hand, it needs to interpret the uniqueness and particularity of the experience of the other, especially its experience as a non-I other.”25 Husserl failed in this regard. It is already pointed out that human rights based on an interpretation of another are nothing but another form of interpreting human rights by ego. However, ego will definitely become a passive non-subject if Levinas’ absolute, divine otherness is adopted. Such passive, “inactive” individuals that have no self-confidence and drift with the tide are unable to assume the moral and political responsibilities that human rights require. Nor can human rights get rid of relativism and nihilism. Basing human rights on the interpretation of the other is a hypercorrection of the interpretation of human rights by ego.
From the perspective of philosophical hermeneutics, a human itself is a “historical being. To be historical means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete. All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pregiven.”26 The subject can claim its existence only when it is acknowledged in its historical activities and its interactions with the other. No matter whether it is Husserl, Heidegger, or Levinas, they all directly included historical objects into their analysis, which in fact presupposes intuitive metaphysical justification. As Jacques Derrida points out in Violence and Metaphysics: “Metaphysics, unable to escape its ancestry in light, always supposes a phenomenology in its very critique of phenomenology, and especially if, like Levinas’s metaphysics, it seeks to be discourse and instruction.”27 For Derrida, “Cartesian meditations” (Husserl), the interpretation of “Dasein” (Heidegger), and the experience of “il y a” (Levinas) are all pure speculations. They all criticize I think in the context of I think, which is obviously unsuccessful.
Paul Ricoeur agrees with Derrida’s criticism of phenomenological metaphysics while giving some suggestions to get rid of this predicament. He says: “No matter how much attention is paid to the descriptions of perception later, the starting point of phenomenology is not the silent characteristics of consciousness activities, but the connection it makes with things through various symbols, such as the connection it makes with an established culture.”28 Therefore, “phenomenology should be structural; at least it should be so at the beginning.”29 In his view, only by emphasizing culture and the structure of cultural phenomena can we focus on practices to get rid of the limitations of speculative philosophy. Ricoeur’s viewpoint combines practical philosophy with speculative philosophy. The reason why the interpretation of ego or other cannot serve as a solid foundation for morality and human rights is that both are speculative objects and are detached from practices. The interpretation of the two can only form an exclusive set of overall moral philosophies. However, the interpretation of self produces a different outcome. Self is not a substance or a speculative object. It is both a story and practice. It is an “identity as selfhood” (l’identi comme ipseite)30 constructed through narrative. In other words, it has no physical core. Its core is fictionalized through interactions with others just like the center of gravity. It is a “center of narrative gravity.”31 Self is “self as another”. Therefore, self is not absolute. The interpretation of self will not form an exclusive set of overall moral philosophy. Speculative identity is abandoned here and replaced by practical identity. The former is from a philosophical perspective, while the latter is from a political perspective. Therefore, self has two characteristics: on the one hand, it originates from the other, is subject to the other, and is shaped by the stories told by the other; on the other hand, it constructs “identity” and a weak subjectivity that is sufficient to meet the requirements of morality and human rights.32
Thus, the concept of self is clear. It is a metaphysical approach to understand human rights as the rights based on the interpretation of ego, another, or even the other and to seek the basic value and core content of human rights from the conditions and situations of existence. However, this approach always has an antinomy in theory and cannot explain complex issues of human rights in practice. Understanding human rights as an interpretation of self is equivalent to giving up the metaphysics of the origin of human rights and instead emphasizing the historical, experiential, and practical nature of the origin of human rights. Human rights originate from the history of constructing self and from the practices and storytelling of human rights in social groups and communities. Self does not claim precedence over social groups and communities, and this is the biggest difference from the interpretation of ego.
The exchange and communication history of human rights tells us that human rights have become an important contemporary political and legal discourse and they have a specific justification. Onuma Yasuaki, a Japanese scholar on human rights, says that: “The international norms on human rights that are centered on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Bill of Human Rights, and Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action are generally recognized and accepted expressly or implicitly by most countries in the international community today, and certainly possess an international legitimacy. However, this does not mean that they possess a transnational and civilization-compatible legitimacy.”33 Apparently, such a moderate, compatible viewpoint better fits the subject hermeneutics of human rights based on self.
V. Philosophical Significance of the Subject of Human Rights Based on Self
The interpretation of human rights as subject hermeneutics of self has the following characteristics: First, it eliminates the predicament faced by the universalism of human rights. It is obvious anti-universalism to understand human rights as the rights of self and then to understand self as the construction of the other such as society, culture, and groups. Self is historical and relative as the construction of a concrete situation. It is unlike the ontological interpretations of ego or another, which bases the basic conditions of human rights on a given form and thus advocates generic consistency.
Second, it eliminates the predicament faced by the relativism of human rights. Such a predicament is manifested in two aspects: 1. Human rights need to be enforced on a physical subject but cannot be enforced on the other that can never be grasped. Understanding human rights as the rights of self and understanding self as the needs of “imputation”34 and as the subject of narrative finds a core with subjectivity for the responsibilities of human rights, even if this core is a non-physical core fictionalized by words and stories. 2. Pluralistic concepts of human rights need to find a basis for mutual understanding. Although people do not and cannot form a uniform general theory in the sense of moral philosophy, they generally recognize the basic rights,such as the right to life and personal rights, from an empirical perspective. This is practical and political recognition — the phenomenon where people have different theories of morality support the same viewpoint in practice constitutes what’s called an “overlapping consensus”. To sum up, the opportunity to eliminate the predicament of relativism is to “regard individuals as a bridge between different communities.”35 Such individuals are “identity with alterity,” ego and another that emphasize “identity only” and the other that emphasizes “alterity only” cannot meet the requirements.
Third, it eliminates the predicament faced by the pragmatism of human rights. The pragmatism of human rights observes human rights only from the perspective of consequences. If human rights can play a role as rhetoric, the corresponding right can be incorporated into the human rights discourse. However, such a consequence-based concept of human rights lacks identity, that is, on the one hand, it cannot provide a critical discourse of human rights based on the identity of its concept; on the other hand, it is prone to merging with power realism due to overemphasis on consequences.The former, in the words of Roberto Unger, is “doctrine of shrinkage,”36 while the latter, in Michel Foucault’s view, is a conspiracy of knowledge and power. Therefore, the concept of self with identity is effective in eliminating the predicament of pragmatism. As individuals, people have a relatively stable value judgment and subjective orientation, which is constructed by history and the environment. For self, a subject that is constructed by historical narrative, human rights are not just a historical concept. Facing an unknown future, it must make judgments through internalized concepts. Human rights based on the interpretation of self have a critical structure and can provide normative judgments, although such judgments may be corrected due to specific consequences.
Fourth, it facilitates a narrative turn in the foundations of human rights. The absoluteness and monologue of ego and the other lead to their discourses always seeking to merge with reason to justify themselves and persuade their opponents. Theories of human rights based on the interpretations of ego and the other also take justifying themselves as the basic approach. In the context of pluralistic facts, stiff conflicts and confrontations are inevitable. Therefore, some scholars have put forward the proposition that moral arguments cannot solve the problem. “Human rights are best defended in the end by the feelings, convictions, and actions of multitudes of individuals.”37 The era of the “narrative turn” we are in now offers an approach toemotional identification beyond rational argument. “Narrative’s power to capture certain truths and experiences in ways that other modes of explanation and analysis such as statistics, descriptions, summaries, and reasoning via conceptual abstractions cannot.”38 Human rights interpreted through self are knowledge achieved through understanding, empathy, and acknowledgment generated by narrative and not logically necessary knowledge. The approach to explore the basis of human rights has changed from logical argumentation to deductive narrative. Stories don’t have to be thoroughly exclusive or exactly right or wrong. It can be said that narrative is a flexible, inclusive approach. It helps to eliminate the conflicts of human rights in reality.
There are certainly some theoretical issues regarding self as the origin and undertaker of the subject of human rights. First, the interpretation of self is a continuous process. It is unlike ego or another that is based on certain metaphysical anthropology. The interpretation of self is not fixed, and the human rights based on the interpretation of self are changing accordingly. The constant changes in the content, scope, and form of human rights also set higher requirements for the practices and exchanges of human rights. Second, self is constantly constructed by stories. However, stories are stories, and realities are realities. “Lies are the ultimate risk of storytelling as a method.”39 As a constructed subject, self is logically open to any story and cannot serve as a self-sufficient origin of human rights. Human rights derived from the interpretation of self must be combined with other theories of human rights to give full play to its role in reconciling pluralistic concepts and eliminating conflicts.
VI. Conclusion
It is a more advisable approach of analysis to understand the origin of the subject of human rights as the interpretation of the situation of “self” and human rights as the rights of “self.” “Self” is not a conceptually or logically abstract subject. It has an identity and a story. It is not an isolated spiritual substance, but a practical existence in the community. Human rights interpreted through “self” are not abstract but are closely related to social practices and the destiny of the community. At the same time, self internalizes external moral obligations. It acknowledges certain concrete concepts of human rights but does not absolutize them. It acknowledges that human rights may be pluralistic, but it can be consistently responsible for its concepts and practices of human rights. Compared with understanding human rights as the rights of ego, another, or the other, understanding human rights as the rights of “self” can better avoid weakening the value of human rights by various arguments in theory and then provide a more effective and flexible approach of interpretation in practice.
(Translated by LI Rong)
* GAO Lijie ( 高礼杰 ), Lecturer, the Department of Philosophy and postdoctoral of the Human Rights Institute at Southwest University of Political Science and Law. This paper is a phased result of the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation project “Narrative Research on Human Rights” (Project No.: 2016M602644) and Chongqing Postdoctoral Special Foundation project (Project No.: XM2016010).
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4. Paul Ricoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations, trans. Mo Weimin (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 2008), 4-5.
5. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, trans. Lin Xianghua (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company,2008), 384.
6. Serena Parekh, Hannah Arendt and the Challenge of Modernity: A Phenomenology of Human Rights, trans. Zhang Yunlong (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2012), 29.
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8. He Zhaowu, “Natural Rights and Human Rights Endowed by Man”, Du Shu 8 (1994): 85.
9. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Miao Litian (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005), 8.
10. Ibid., 53.
11. Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations & The Paris Lectures, trans. Ni Liangkang (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2008), 104.
12. Paul Ricoeur, On the Schools of Phenomenology, trans. Jiang Haiyan (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press,2010), 7.
13. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, trans. She Biping (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005), 15.
14. Costas Douzina, Human Rights and Empire, trans. Xin Hengfu (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2010), 2 of Chinese introduction.
15. Ibid., 9 of Chinese introduction.
16. Friedrich Carl von Savigny, Basic Thoughts of the Historical School of Jurisprudence, trans. Zheng Yongliu (Beijing: Law Press, 2009), 19.
17. Friedrich Carl von Savigny, Of the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence, trans. Xu Zhangrun (Beijing: China Legal Publishing House, 2001), 9.
18. Andrew Fagan, Human Rights: Confronting Myths and Misunderstandings (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009), 1.
19. Dan Zahavi, Husserl’s Phenomenology, trans. Li Zhongwei (Shanghai: Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 2007), 124.
20. Paul Ricoeur, On the Schools of Phenomenology, trans. Jiang Haiyan (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2010), 176.
21. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,1979), 124.
22. John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, trans. Yao Dazhi (Beijing: China Social Sciences Press,2011), 10.
23. James Griffin, On Human Rights, trans. Xu Xiangdong and Liu Ming (Nanjing: Yilin Press, 2015), 17-18.
24. Zhao Tingyang, “Prepaid Human Rights: A Non-Western Theory of Universal Human Rights”, Social Sciences in China 4 (2006).
25. Paul Ricoeur, On the Schools of Phenomenology, trans. Jiang Haiyan (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press,2010), 177-278.
26. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Hong Handing (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 2010), 427.
27. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Zhang Ning (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2001),203.
28. Paul Ricoeur, On the Schools of Phenomenology, trans. Jiang Haiyan (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press,2010), 3.
29. Ibid., 49.
30. Paul Ricoeur, Soi-meme comme un autre (Paris: Ed. Du Seuil, 1990), 140.
31. Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, trans. Su Dechao ed., (Beijing: Beijing Institute of Technology Press, 2008), 480-490.
32. On Ricoeur’s concept of the subject between function and substance. Gao Lijie, “Literary Narrative and the Third Fate of the Subject”, Theory Monthly 12 (2013).
33. Onuma Yasuaki, Human Rights, States, and Civilizations, trans. Wang Zhian (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2014), 319-320.
34. Paul Ricoeur, “Narrative Identity”, Philosophy Today 35, no. 1 (1991): 73-79.
35. Benjamin Gregg, Human Rights as Social Construction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 53.
36. Roberto Unger, The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,2007), 1.
37. Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History, trans. Shen Zhanchun (Beijing: The Commercial Press,2011), 162.
38. Robert Scholes and others, The Nature of Narrative, trans. Yu Lei (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2015),298.
39. Mac Kinnon, “Law’s Stories as Reality and Politics” in Law’s Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 232.
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