George Kateb, Human Dignity [Book Review]

Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (2):251-253 (2013)
Many want to justify the continued existence of the human species or the absolutism of human rights. In his recent book, George Kateb argues that moral values (which, in his view, focus primarily upon suffering) are insufficient for these tasks. Morality condemns humanity for its history of needless death and destruction; morality tolerates violations of human rights. Kateb claims that human dignity (which he characterizes as an existential value) must do some of the heavy lifting required to defend the continuation of the species and the absolutism of human rights. In his view, the idea of humanity dignity results from reflection upon the uniqueness of humanity. The core content of human dignity is that “on earth, humanity is the greatest type of beings…[and] every member deserves to be treated in a manner consonant with the high worth of the species” (pp. 3-4). Human dignity consists both of the superior stature of the species and the equal status of each individual human being. A commitment to the superior stature of the species bolsters the justification of the species. While humanity may have condemned itself from a moral point of view, it may be justified by its great achievements and by its capacity to serve nature. A commitment to the equal status of all individuals bolsters the case for human rights by protecting against rights violations that may achieve a greater moral good.
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DOI 10.1163/17455243-01002008
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