Literature, Genocide, and the Philosophy of International Law

Raimond Gaita

in Crime, Punishment, and Responsibility

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199592814
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191729034 | DOI:
Literature, Genocide, and the Philosophy of International Law

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Most philosophers believe that art, perhaps literature especially, has something to offer moral philosophy, imaginative examples most importantly. Fewer philosophers believe that it has much to contribute to the philosophy of law. That is in part because writers are rooted in a natural language (not necessarily their own) with historical resonances, depth, allusions, aliveness to tone, that has shaped and is shaped by the lives of particular peoples. But the judge who rebukes a witness given to literary flourishes wants plain speech, suited to establishing facts, and the philosopher of international law, one is inclined to think, must strive for the high abstraction necessary to formulate principles and their justifications to all of human kind in a language that appeals to what we have in common rather than what divides us as natural languages and anything that is necessarily rooted in them appears to do. This chapter explores whether these are irreconcilable perspectives one necessarily local, the other necessarily universal. It argues that they are not. Taking the concept of genocide and the writings of novelist and legal philosopher, Bernhard Schlink as examples, the chapter argues that literature can provide even the philosophy of law with a richer understanding of the forms of universality and the form of philosophical thought suited to understanding some of the big categories on international law, than philosophers commonly assume.

Keywords: international law; genocide; literature and philosophy; universality; Berhard Schlink; Antony Duff

Chapter.  11296 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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