Nora Hangel

Reflections on contemporary philosophical challenges to human rights


The paper addresses contemporary philosophical challenges to human rights, at the individual level (I.) the group level (II.) and gives an outlook to the supra-state level (III.). The first part explores Drucilla Cornell’s criticism of the concept of subjectivity on which human rights are based, and points to the inherent gender bias of current human rights standards which contradicts the very core of the human rights idea itself. Claiming to ad the process of individuation to the concept of subjectivity is to claim the feminine sex equal to the male sex but at the same time rejecting the encoded structures of femininity on current conception of women’s sex. What is gained by that is the devaluation of sexual differences before the protection of minimum conditions of individuation. Cornell argues for equality for each one of us as a sexuate and thus a phenomenal creature and insists on returning gender discrimination to sex discrimination which brings back and includes the demands of lesbians, gays, transsexuals and any other form of sexuate being.

The second part deals with the question of universal validity of human rights and places it in the context of Amartya Sen’s work which perceives human rights as a dynamic process of reasoned, open discourse among different actors with different interests. The third and final part deals with Pauline Kleingeld’s interpretation of Kant’s concept of a World State and its relevance for better institutional protection of human rights, arguing that state sovereignty has to be reconciled with effective human rights protection.