Friday, August 29, 2008
The recent discussions of the location and foundation of human dignity -- is it primarily inherent in discrete individuals, or is it relationship-oriented? -- are interesting. But it seems to me that the only well founded of Steven Pinker's recent criticisms of dignity was the concept's lack of developed content, its ambiguity on lots of questions. For example, does human dignity forbid, or allow (even require as some say), holding a person responsible with his life for murdering another? To take another, Is dignity defined primarily by autonomy, or by substantive norms of behavior reflecting the highest possibilities of being human? How do we advance on fronts like this? (Admittedly, this is also true of other foundational concepts like "freedom," but to that extent those concepts also are not real helpful except for rhetoric, and need to be analyzed further.) Does answering the question whether dignity is a "way of being human" or a "property of being human" gets us very far on determining what human dignity requires?