Rethinking Human Rights

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This article contributes to thinking about human rights by linking them to the concept of suffering. Building on the work of Judith Shklar, it maintains that attentiveness to suffering can invigorate human rights and this especially today, when justifications for human rights face frequent challenge. The article elucidates how both the advantages and difficulties of linking human rights to suffering can be acknowledged. Upon this view, human rights are analytically comparable to political rights and the interplay between domestic affairs and global ones is strong. Moreover, Shklar's work demonstrates the constant competition between human rights’ interventionist aspect and challenges to interventionism, revealing that both tendencies emanate from the same urge to politically attend to suffering. Shklar's cosmopolitanism, which incorporates these two competing tendencies, is therefore not free of inherent tension. But if properly delimited, this tension can both mitigate excess and induce extra carefulness precisely in situations when new suffering might emerge or is already occurring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-705
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Politics
Issue number5
Early online date31 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 01 Sept 2013


  • human rights
  • suffering
  • harm
  • Judith N. Shklar
  • cosmopolitanism


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