Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 6, Issue 3/4, Fall/Winter 1999

Patrick Hayden
Pages 59-66

Sentimentality and Human Rights
Critical Remarks on Rorty

Richard Rorty has recently argued that support for human rights ought to be cultivated in terms of a sentimental education which manipulates our emotions through detailed stories intended to produce feelings of sympathy and solidarity. Rorty contends that a sentimental education will be more effective in promoting respect for human rights than will a moral discourse grounded on rationality and universalism. In this paper, I critically examine Rorty’s proposal and argue that it fails to recognize the necessity of moral reasoning in creating and implementing the types of international human rights regimes which are required precisely when our sympathy is lacking or completely fails. In addition to a sentimental education, an effective human rights culture must include strong principles of moral agency, such as freedom and equality, and a commitment to the institutionalization of those principles as human rights norms.