A Theory of Human Dignity, #6–How Nonideal Can a World Be?

By Robert Hanna

Prüfung,” by Edith Breckwoldt (2004)



I. Introduction


This installment contains section IV.0.


IV. Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory

A conflict of duties would be a relation between them in which one of them would cancel the other (wholly or in part)…. But since duty and obligation are concepts that express the objective practical necessity of certain actions and two rules opposed to each other cannot be necessary at the same time, if it is a duty to act in accordance with one rule, to act in accordance with the opposite rule is not a duty but even contrary to duty; so a collision of duties and obligations is inconceivable. However, a subject may have, in a rule he prescribes to himself, two grounds of obligation, one or the other of which is not sufficient to put him under obligation, so that one of them is not a duty. (MM 6: 224)

IV.0 How Nonideal Can a World Be?

According to the broadly Kantian theory of human dignity, the essential moral implications of human dignity are an hierarchically-ordered set of (either absolutely or ceteris paribus) universal moral principles specifying ways of always treating all human real persons with sufficient respect for their human dignity, the essence of which is the absolutely universal obligation never to treat any human real person (including oneself) as a mere means or as a mere thing, in a thoroughly nonideal natural and social world. Moreover, human dignity and its essential moral and political implications are known by a multifaceted systematic method that includes (i) essentially reliable a priori moral intuitions of basic principles supplemented by logical rationality and reasoning, (ii) fairly reliable cognitive and practical constructive knowledge of non-basic principles under those basic principles, (iii) considered moral judgments in real-world contexts and in thought-experiments by way of applying and further specifying those basic and non-basic principles, and (iv) empathetic intersubjective moral phenomenology. Strictly and narrowly speaking, in recent and contemporary Anglo-American professional academic philosophy, “nonideal theory” is political theorizing under the assumption that compliance to principles of justice is inherently not strict. But there is a broader and deeper sense of “nonideal theory” that is ethical theorizing under the assumption that compliance to moral principles is inherently not strict. It is this broader and deeper sense that I am particularly interested in. More precisely, in this section I want to work out the basics of broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory.


[i] R.W. Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in S.E. Whicher (ed.), Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 147–168, at 153.


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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store