Making sense of human dignity
in From reason to practice in bioethics
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Discussions of human dignity have burgeoned in bioethics. John Harris, amongst others, has been highly critical of the vague, and often unreasoned appeals that this involves. Whilst agreeing with much of his stance, it is argued that the concept of human dignity is not merely important but essential for bioethics. Various ways in which dignity has been appealed to in order to constrain autonomous action for self-harm or action that effects only non-autonomous beings ("dignity as constraint") are criticised, some of which appeal to Kant’s idea of human dignity. However, as applied to non-autonomous beings, this is a misuse of Kant, and anyway Kant’s use of the idea manifests a tension between using dignity as a constraint on autonomy and seeing it as reflecting the fundamental value of autonomy. A conception of "dignity as empowerment" founded on the moral philosophy of Alan Gewirth is outlined and defended.

From reason to practice in bioethics

An anthology dedicated to the works of John Harris

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