Philosophy and Social Criticism 37 (9):965-976 (2011)
In the practice of social criticism, the concept of human dignity has played and still plays an important role. In philosophical debates, however, we find widely divergent accounts of that concept, ranging from views based on a conception of human needs to religious approaches trying to explain the ‘inviolability’ of the person. The view presented here reconstructs the basic claim of human dignity historically and normatively as resting on the moral status of the person as a reason-giving, reason-demanding and reason-deserving being. The person as holding a basic moral right to justification is the true ground for the claim of having one’s dignity respected: as someone who must not be subjected to norms, rules, or institutions which cannot be properly justified to that person in appropriate practices of justification. To possess human dignity means being an equal member in the realm of subjects and authorities of justification and to be respected as such. This is the moral ground of social criticism, implied in particular social and political demands raised in given historical contexts. Thus, critical theory has to be reoriented towards a critique of the relations of justification in a given social order of justification
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