Document Type : Research Article


Professor Emeritus at Faculty of Law, University of Washington


So long as there is law there can be no universal human right to peace. This is because legalized violence, whether in threat or in deed, constitutes the very antithesis of peaceful relations from the point of view of those whom law represses. Law cannot define peace as the absence of all violence—and still less as the absence of all legalized suffering—without gainsaying justice, for as Pascal says, “Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical.” Although legal outcomes, like falling boulders and pouncing lions, can always be imputed to historical causes, experience teaches that legal actors generally seek to legitimate their deeds by grounding the law in some non-causal narrative of the right or the good. According to a tenet of political liberalism that can be traced to Descartes’ discovery (or invention) of the irreducible “I” that thinks, the legitimacy of law’s narrative is both given and taken by free and rational politico-legal subjects. In truth, however, the Western philosophical tradition gives us two separate grammars for discussing what it takes to be two different kinds of rational subjects: the causal subject and the grounding subject. The causal subject stands in a relation to the world. Acting strategically as the cause of effects, it uses the object world and other human beings as means to its ends. But the causal subject is also itself caused: its desires and actions are effects of history in the largest sense of the word. Such a one is fated by grammar and custom to become an object and a means in its own right: an object for scientific inquiry and knowledge, for example, and, more generally, a means to the ends of other causal subjects. From the standpoint of the causal subject, there can be no human right not to use or be used as a means.
Unlike the causal subject, the grounding subject is supposed to be a genuine origin rather than a mere link in an infinite chain of causes and effects. In Greek terms, this subject is an archē as opposed to an aitia. It also corresponds to the original Latin meaning of the word “sub-ject”: it is thrown (jacere) under (sub) its world as (not in) an unmediated relation to its projects. This second kind of subject has gone by many different names, including “soul” (Plato), “freedom” (Kant) and “Spirit” (Hegel). In one way or another, the idea of the grounding subject performs its primary task within the moral sphere: it is supposed to provide a secure foundation which explains how it is possible for its doppelganger, the causal subject, at once to accomplish something in the world and to refute Plautus’s notorious argument that man is wolf to man. If the causal subject reacts in the manner of an animal, then the grounding subject allegedly responds in the manner of an animal rationale. If the causal subject produces effects, then the grounding subject is supposed to create and bear responsibility for those effects.
Given the foregoing distinctions, the most pressing juridical and moral question facing twenty-first century humanity seems to be: How can law and politics become at once effective and just, coercive and compassionate, responsive and responsible? How, in short, is it possible (to borrow Kant’s somewhat quaint terminology) to use oneself and other human beings simultaneously as ends and as means? But here, as elsewhere in philosophy, appearances can be deceiving, for this question presupposes far too much.
This paper investigates the strong connection between the foregoing concepts of subjectivity and the notion of a just peace. The question is not, “Are there rational subjects and can they found something new, such as a just peace?” Instead, the question at the heart of the matter is how something as flimsy and ephemeral as an “idea” could ever found anything at all. I will attempt to unmask the terrible tensions or contradictions between justice and ethics, freedom and responsibility, and reason and compassion, and trace them to their origin: the will (or desire) to deny tragedy. I claim that the concept of the grounding subject represents a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to repress awareness of (and evade personal responsibility for) the essential sadness and tragedy of the world. Reason and faith provide the human body with a thin tissue of grounding statements comprised of symbols and images. At best these symbols and images are mere stimuli: action-triggers that will never adequately span the vast existential distance separating the grounding subject from the causal subject, our ends from our means, our words from our deeds, and, more generally, human suffering from the endless secular and religious casuistries we offer to justify it.


  1. Books & Articles:

    1. Beck, Lewis White (1967). “Neo-Kantianism”, in: Paul Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, v. 468-73, New York: Macmillan.
    2. Benjamin, Walter (1978). Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, Transl. by Edmund Jephcott, New York: Schocken Books.
    3. Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann (1967). The Social Construction of Reality, New York: Doubleday.
    4. Descartes, René (1985). The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Transl. by John Cottingham et al., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    5. Douzinas, Costas (2000). The End of Human Rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century, Oxford: Hart.
    6. Dworkin, Ronald (1986). Law’s Empire, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
    7. Foucault, Michel (2003). “Society Must be Defended’: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-1976”, eds Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, Transl. by David Macey, New York: Picador.
    8. Foucault, Michel (1980), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trs id. et al., New York: Pantheon.
    9. Foucault, Michel (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, Transl. by A.M. Sheridan Smith, New York: Pantheon.

    10. Habermas, Jürgen (1984). The Theory of Communicative Action, Transl. by Thomas McCarthy, Boston: Beacon Press.

    11. Hart, H.L.A. (1961). The Concept of Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    12. Hegel, G.W.F. (1977). Phenomenology of Spirit, Transl. by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    13. Hegel, G.W.F. (1975). Hegel’s Logic, Transl. by William Wallace, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    14. Heidegger, Martin (2008). Basic Concepts of Ancient Philosophy, Transl. by Richard Rojcewicz, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    15. Heidegger, Martin (1977). The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, Transl. by William Lovitt, New York: Harper & Row.

    16. Hyppolite, Jean (1996). Introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Transl. by Bond Harris and Jacqueline Spurlock, Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press.

    17. Jaeger, Werner (1944). Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, 2nd edn, Transl. by Gilbert Highet, New York: Oxford University Press.

    18. Jankélévitch, Vladimir (2005). Forgiveness, Transl. by Andrew Kelley, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    19. Kant, Immanuel (2000). The Critique of Judgment, Transl. by J.H. Bernard, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

    20. Kant, Immanuel (1998). The Critique of Pure Reason, eds and Transl. by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    21. Kant, Immanuel (1993). The Philosophy of Kant: Immanuel Kant’s Moral and Political Writings, ed. Carl Friedrich, Transl. by Carl Friedrich et al., New York: Modern Library.

    22. Kojéve, Alexandre (1980). Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Transl. by James Nichols, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    23. Marx, Karl (1964). Early Writings, ed. and Transl. by T.B. Bottomore, New York: McGraw-Hill.

    24. Marx, Karl (1959). Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

    25. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1996). Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Second Edition, Transl. by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    26. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1968). The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trs id. and R.J. Hollingdale, New York: Vintage Books.

    27. Pascal, Blaise (1941). Pensées and the Provincial Letters, Transl. by W.F. Trotter and Thomas M’Crie, New York: Modern Library.

    28. Plautus, Titus Maccius (1874). Comedies of Plautus, Transl. by Bonnell Thornton, London: Becket and de Hondt.

    29. Rawls, John (1999). The Law of Peoples, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    30. Schopenhauer, Arthur (1999). Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will, ed. Günter Zöller, Transl. by E.F.J. Payne, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    31. Weber, Max (1978). Economy and Society, eds Guenther Ross and Claus Wittich, Transl. by Ephraim Fischoff et al., Berkeley: University of California Press.

    32. Weber, Max (1958). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, eds and Transl. by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, New York: Oxford University Press.

    33. Wittgenstein, Ludwig and Friedrich Waismann (2003). The Voices of the Vienna Circle, ed. Gordon Baker, Transl. by Gordon Baker et al., London: Routledge.

    34. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2005). The Big Typescript TS 213, eds and Transl. by G. Grant Luckhardt and Maximilian Aue, Oxford: Blackwell.

    35. Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2003). Public and Private Occasions, eds James Klagge and Alfred Nordmann, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield