Journal of Philosophy

Persons, Human Beings, and Respect


Peter Baumann

University of Aberdeen


Abstract. Human dignity seems very important to us. At the same time, the concept ‘human dignity’ is extraordinarily elusive. A good way to approach the questions “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” is to raise another question first: In virtue of what do human beings have human dignity? Speciesism – the idea that human beings have a particular dignity because they are humans – does not seem very convincing. A better answer says that human beings have dignity because and insofar as they are persons. I discuss several versions of this idea as well as several objections against it. The most promising line of analysis says that human beings cannot survive psychologically without a very basic form a recognition and respect by others. The idea that humans have a special dignity is the idea that they owe each other this kind of respect. All this also suggests that human dignity is inherently social. Non-social beings do not have dignity – nor do they lack it. It is because we are social animals of a certain kind that we have dignity – not so much because we are rational animals. Back

















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