Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

The vulnerable living order: human rights and the environment in a critical and philosophical perspective

Anna Grear * *

Keywords: human rights, environment, ontological vulnerability, dualism, capitalism, legal anthropocentrism, interrelationality, intercorporeality


One of the problems encountered in bringing the discourses of human rights and environment together concerns the philosophical foundations lying beneath certain closures of liberal (legal) theory. Linking a destructive mind/body split to the destructive relationship between ‘humanity’ and the ‘environment’, the author argues that a critical analysis of legal anthropomorphism reveals a fundamental failure of representation at its heart, in so far as the ‘human being’ qua ‘human being’ is not fully included in it. On further analysis human beings can be seen to be functionally united with non-human animals and the environment in a form of conceptual exclusion linked to certain violences of capitalism. The author reflects upon the thought of Merleau-Ponty, offering it as a basis for an alternative philosophical lens through which to understand the relationship between human rights and the environment, one uniting them in the ontological vulnerability of the living order itself. Human beings, in this light, are not the hyper-rational subjects of liberal legal theory acting upon an objectified, exploitable ‘nature’. We are, rather, part of a living tissue of interconnection bearing profound implications for ethics, epistemology and legal theory.

Author Notes

The author would like to thank Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Upendra Baxi, Karen Morrow, Fiona De Londras, Evadne Grant and Alison Assiter for their reflections. Any errors remain the author's alone.

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