by George Kateb
(Belknap Press, 2011)
Given our concern with human dignity, it is odd that it has received comparatively little scrutiny. Here, George Kateb asks what human dignity is and why it matters for the claim to rights. He proposes that dignity is an “existential” value that pertains to the identity of a person as a human being. To injure or even to try to efface someone’s dignity is to treat that person as not human or less than human — as a thing or instrument or subhuman creature. Kateb does not limit the notion of dignity to individuals but extends it to the human species. The dignity of the human species rests on our uniqueness among all other species. In the book’s concluding section, he argues that despite the ravages we have inflicted on it, nature would be worse off without humanity. The supremely fitting task of humanity can be seen as a “stewardship” of nature.
1. The Idea of Human Dignity
2. Individual Status and Human Rights
3. Human Uniqueness: Traits and Attributes
4. Human Stature and Great Achievements
George Kateb is Professor Emeritus of Politics at Princeton University. His books include "The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture" (Cornell University Press, 1992), "Emerson and Self-Reliance" (Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), and "Patriotism and Other Mistakes" (Yale University Press, 2007).
Hear a conversation with George Kateb on the Brian Lehrer Show, January 5, 2011, WNYC.
See Clifford Orwin's review of "Human Dignity" here.