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European Sources of Human Dignity

A Commented Anthology

Mette Lebech

This anthology brings together texts of significance for the conceptualisation of human dignity as a constitutional principle in Europe from the earliest evidence until 1965. It divides into four parts, respectively presenting the ancient, the medieval, the early modern and the modern sources. As far as human dignity is a constitutional principle, its history follows closely that of the constitution of states. However, various traditions of human dignity, understanding it to rely on features unrelated to the state, combine in the background to reflect the substance of the idea. The introductions to texts, chapters and parts narrates this history in relation to the texts presented to reflect it. The aim is to provide for scholars and students of law, philosophy, political science and theology a collection of texts documenting the history of the concept of human dignity that is sufficiently comprehensive to contextualise the various understandings of it. A structured bibliography accompanies the work.

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Conclusion

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Having completed this anthology, and thus repeatedly referred back to the intuition of human dignity in and through all the ways in which it has been thought about and discussed in the texts here proposed, it seems to me that it can be expressed in the following way.

It is:

1. The value of human beings motivating respect for them as such;

2. A constitutional principle according to which this value, when respected by government, is established as the status of human beings;

3. A value that can be violated in others by successfully enticing or conditioning them to prefer other values to it;

4. A value I can compromise in myself by preferring other values to it; and

5. A value that can be and has been restored by God’s love for us in the redemption brought by Christ.

The fifth feature may be specific to the Christian tradition, but all the other features seem shared by all traditions in such a way that the fifth feature does not have to be considered as contradicting the first four in any way. The lack of substantial theoretical disagreement about what human dignity is, is nevertheless matched by disagreements about the practical implications involved in the respect of human dignity, about what a human being is and about what rights and duties human dignity originates. That human dignity would be something of which intuition can...

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