A Theory of Human Dignity, #25–Conclusion.

By Robert Hanna

Prüfung/Test,” by Edith Breckwoldt (2004)


This long essay, “A Theory of Human Dignity,” presents and defends a general theory of human dignity, with special attention paid to spelling out its background metaphysics, formulating and justifying a basic set of dignitarian moral principles, and critically addressing hard cases for the theory.

“A Theory of Human Dignity” is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download, read, and/or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.

This twenty-fifth and final installment contains section VII.



I. Introduction

II. Refuting the Dignity-Skeptic and Debunking a Dignity-Debunking Argument

III. The Metaphysics of Human Dignity

III.1 What Human Dignity Is

III.2 Real Persons and Minded Animals

III.3 A Metaphysical Definition of Real Personhood

IV. Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory

IV.0 How Nonideal Can a World Be?

IV.1 The Skinny Logic and the Fat Semantics of Moral Principles in Broadly Kantian Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory

IV.2 How to Solve the Universalizability and Rigorism Problems

IV.3 How to Solve the Problem of Moral Dilemmas

IV.4 Policy of Truth: The Murderer-at-the-Door Revisited

IV.5 One Last Thing, By Way of Concluding This Section

V. Some Hard Cases For Broadly Kantian Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory

V.0 How Hard Can Hard Cases Be?

V.1 Abortion and Infanticide: Introduction

V.1.1 The Neo-Person Thesis, Neo-Persons, and Non-Persons

V.1.2 A Five-Step Argument for the Neo-Person Thesis

V.2 Post-Persons

V.3 Non-Human Animals and Their Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends

V.3.1 Real Persons and Different Species

V.3.2 Pain and Suffering

V.3.3 Moral Comparison

V.3.4 Kindness to Animals Revisited: Harming without Torture or Cruelty

V.3.5 Kindness to All Living Beings: Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends

V.4 Treating People Merely as a Means

V.5 Permissible Uses of Force and Civil Disobedience

VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic

VII. Conclusion


VII. Conclusion

One of the epigraphs for [Adam] Etinson’s recent would-be dignity-debunking essay[i] is a quotation from a book by a survivor of Auschwitz, who writes that “I must confess that I don’t know exactly what that is: human dignity.”[ii] In view of that epigraph, Etinson’s general idea, clearly, is that for individual “human, all-too-human” animals living, suffering, and dying on the ground in this thoroughly nonideal natural and social world, the prima facie concept of human dignity is excessively abstract, merely stipulative, ultimately irrelevant, and eminently debunkable.

But sharply contrariwise, my close reading of, for example, diaries from the siege of Leningrad,[iii] is that virtually all individual “human, all-too-human” animals living, suffering, and dying on the ground in this thoroughly nonideal natural and social world are in fact, at least implicitly, broadly Kantian dignitarians through-and-through — it’s just that in order philosophically to capture and clearly-and-distinctly represent their “human, all-too-human” experiences and lives in a broadly Kantian realistic, non-naturalistic, and non-social-constructionist theory of human dignity, we also need a resolutely nonideal moral and sociopolitical theory of human dignity. I’ve done all that in this long-ish essay. What remains to be done, most urgently, is to enact human dignity according to that theory.



[i] [A. Etinson, “What’s So Special About Human Dignity?” Philosophy and Public Affairs 48 (2020): 353–381.]

[ii] J. Améry, At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 27, as quoted in Etinson, “What’s So Special About Human Dignity?,” p. 353.

[iii] See, e.g., A. Peri, The War Within: Diaries from the Siege of Leningrad (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2017).


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 31 January 2022

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.