Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 12: Dignity
Mark D. White The word ‘dignity’ has many meanings, most of them interconnected in some way, but with widely varying emphases. In some cases, it names a self-referential quality, similar to self-respect; this is how most ancient philosophers used the term. For the purpose of ethics and economics (and this chapter), dignity may be best understood as an intrinsic quality of persons which accords them some degree of respect. This version is well known through the writings of Immanuel Kant, but has been discussed and elaborated upon – with significant differences – by other philosophers as well. It also features prominently in constitutions and other foundational documents of many nations and international organizations, such as in the United Nations Charter, as well as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (Schachter 1983). In this sense, dignity is often an individualistic counterweight to consequentialist systems of ethics, such as utilitarianism, which is often accused of obscuring the distinction between individual persons due to a disregard for their inherent dignity (for example, see Rawls 1971, pp. 27–30). Following from its roots in classical utilitarianism, mainstream economics must share in this charge; however, heterodox economists – especially social economists – have made significant strides in incorporating various meanings of dignity into their work. This chapter begins with a review of several important philosophical analyses of dignity. While dignity has been discussed by a wide array of philosophers and from many viewpoints, due to space limitations I have chosen to focus on the work of Immanuel Kant,...
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