The European Legacy 20 (5):513-526 (2015)

Andreas Niederberger
Universität Duisburg-Essen
The notion of human dignity stands at the core of contemporary debates on rights, politics, and ethics. Many scholars consider the Renaissance discourse on dignity as one of its main contributions to the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. This article examines the role of human dignity in the philosophies of Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. In their works human dignity relates both to freedom and to a Neo-Platonic ontology, which raises the question of how they reconcile these two possibly contradictory elements. I show that starting from the insight that human beings are “naturally” free and able to make right choices, Ficino and Pico argue that human dignity consists in the ability of humans to understand what is good and to act accordingly. I thus defend the thesis that their conception of human dignity is not modern because it liberates human beings from the “history of being” but rather because it paves the way for their liberation to become rational beings.
Keywords Dignity  Kant  Pico della Mirandola  Ficino  Human Rights
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DOI 10.1080/10848770.2015.1041821
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