Martin Krygier and Human Rights
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This essay takes up the question of why human rights have been something of a peripheral concern for Martin Krygier. The essay suggests that a possible explanation lies in divergent ways in which human rights are commonly understood. The first understanding invokes human rights as a violation of our common humanity (through debasement and humiliation; rape; torture; slavery). The second understanding extends human rights to matters of thick morality (through the human potential for enjoyment; growth; fulfilment and self-realization). On the first understanding, Krygier believes (like Thomas Nagel) that the philosophical interest of an issue is inversely proportional to its real-life significance. Cruelty, evil and abuse demand denunciation and practical opposition, not scholarly discussion. For Krygier, situations that invoke the first understanding are too obvious to require much reflection. On the second understanding, Krygier believes that context is everything. Particular histories, traditions and localities radically (and rightly) alter the way humans seek fulfilment. Situations that invoke the second understanding call for the accommodation and understanding of multiple conflicting perspectives: the language of human rights lacks the necessary nuance and texture. The essay concludes that for students of human rights, susceptible to the myopia of their subject, Krygier’s lesson is a salutary one.