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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 9. The Enlightenment and its Discontents

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CHAPTER 9

The Enlightenment and its Discontents

The same trends as are operative during the Renaissance and the Baroque period continue into the age of Rococo, adding a dash of romanticism on the one hand and of fashion and artifice on the other. Beneath the sheen, however, more serious forces coil up and express themselves in the hankering for simplicity and straightforward normality. The lack of opportunity for advancement of women through a university education or the professions, coupled with the aesthetic ideal of coquettish idleness, leads to vindication of women’s rights to education and access to the professions. In connection with this, we can observe the ‘rights language’ being fully in place. We also see the two-streamed Renaissance tradition for alternately depreciating and extolling human dignity now having a resurgence in the English literary world (and later in the German), where it takes the form of satires on human nature on the one hand and critiques of these as an insult against ‘the dignity of human nature’ (Goldgar, 1965) on the other. Hobbes was classified as a satirist in this regard, and Hume represents the view that it is more advantageous to humankind to praise its dignity than to denigrate it. Wesley’s defence of the doctrine of original sin was probably dressed up to take part in the satirist tradition by an anonymous pamphleteer, but Zollikofer’s contribution, a two-volume collection of sermons on human dignity, purposefully and elegantly sums up both...

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