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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 6. Late Medieval Sources


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Late Medieval Sources

The idea that authority is bestowed by God is parallel to the idea that it is God who, in creating human beings, bestows human dignity on them as an ontological claim to respect from everybody else, backed by God’s image and likeness. If combined, the claim to respect (the value of human dignity) makes of all human beings superiors in Christ, similar in their claims to each other. Since this similarity is visible to all, consisting in the image and likeness of God, human dignity is far from being merely subjective, it is objective and open to inter-subjective inspection. This objectivism is inherited from the naturalism of the ancients, but it adds a dimension to it, in so far as the claim to respect for human dignity is a claim on everybody, not only on the subject in relation to himself. Thus is tweaked into place the idea of human rights, as the claims raised by all constituted in dignity in relation to each other, and human dignity emerges as a status laying a claim also on others.

Maybe women did this tweaking. Since women rarely were ‘constituted in dignity’ by holding office, in relation to men and correspondingly were very familiar with what Aquinas called respect, and regarded as a special virtue, they also were very much in need of respect, since women’s specific vulnerabilities related to love and fertility are easily used to...

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