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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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Chapter 5. Scholastic Sources


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Scholastic Sources

The scholastics explored the Aristotelian and the Ciceronian heritage concerning dignity to the effect of linking the person essentially with dignity, and thus taking a decisive step towards human dignity becoming thinkable as a constitutional principle. This was a genuine and ingenious innovation of an anonymous master leaving behind the definitio magistralis: ‘a person is a subject defined by a property pertaining to dignity’. The importance accorded to the human person was understood to constitute an appeal to the person himself, to behave in accordance with this dignity, something that was, at least by Abélard and Grosseteste, explicitly understood to concern women as well as men. Is it possible that Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), a friend of Bernard, and probably the most successful of her times in shedding light on the paradox of the equal but different dignity of the sexes, did not use the expression dignitas humana or even dignitas to this end? The nobility of the feminine is powerfully expressed in her poems (Hildegard of Bingen, 1988) and also through the microcosmic idea like in Eriugena, but the expression dignitas humana seems not to be employed. If the absence is factual, the innovation of the later medieval sources is all the more important.

Abélard (1079–1142)

Linking dignity with relationship with God solved the problem of recognising dignity to man alone, as distinct from woman, which had been a...

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