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Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion

Volume 26, December 2021

Gordon Haist
Pages 3-30

Negotiating the Nonnegotiable
Human Rights in the Aporia of Justice

Are human rights negotiable? Jacques Derrida argued that it is necessary to negotiate the nonnegotiable to save the nonnegotiable. This paper defends this claim while arguing for what Calvin Schrag called an ethics of the fitting response and finding such a response in Amartya Sen’s realization-focused comparative approach to justice. For Derrida, the aporetic character of urgency produces decisions which must be made outside the institutional limits of decision theory. That calls for a deconstruction of the axiomatics of rights in institutional settings. It also makes urgent the need for a deinstitutionalized ethics undeceived by the challenge of making judgments in aporias. Using Ted Honderich’s humanism as counterfoil, the argument moves through Derrida’s concept of "contradictory coherence" to Schrag’s transverse rationality, which thinks with deconstruction in order to think against its negative outcomes. The paper ends by suggesting that Schrag's communicative praxeology forges an ethics compatible with Sen’s threshold conditions to determine rights through freedoms.