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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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This anthology started out as an appendix to my doctoral thesis, which was published under the title On the Problem of Human Dignity (2009). For the purpose of constructing a theory about what human dignity is, the texts in the collection were chosen according to the criterion that ‘human dignity’, ‘dignity’ or any derivatives thereof were used in them. This criterion still governs the collection, as many readers may still be in need of constructing such a theory. The now much expanded collection allows for doing that in different ways and can be consulted for many different reasons relating to ethics, theology, history or law. Introductions and comments frame the texts nevertheless, so that they form a kind of patchwork, the pattern of which reflects my own understanding of human dignity, as presented in On the Problem of Human Dignity and sharpened during the work with the present anthology.

In that first work, I proposed, in terms not unlike those of Alex Stern quoted above, an argument for human dignity being implicitly and quasi-necessarily intuited as the fundamental value of the subject of human experience. I moreover argued that this intuition allows it to function as a constitutional principle, and indeed as the constitutional principle founding human rights. The history of the conceptualisation of human dignity as a constitutional principle is the account of how that intuition came to play the role of being foundational for law on the national and international level. This history reflects...

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