Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity
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An examination of the reasons behind the ambiguous status of the idea and ideal of dignity.

Dignity has a remarkable resonance in contemporary life. It is used as a touchstone to mark out what is deemed good, right or proper. In all walks of public life dignity is invoked as having a talismanic power to distil the final essence of human existence. Yet, in such public discourse, largely uninformed by the signal role dignity has played in ethical thought, we rarely become acquainted with the source of dignity's imputed magical powers. ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ is a sustained attempt to rectify this oversight by following the fortunes of the idea of dignity from its humble origins until it comes to represent in our time a universal ethical ideal.

Beginning by tracing the source of dignity’s occult status from its earliest appearance in the life and thought of ancient Greece, ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ proceeds to identify dignity in the theological ethics of early Christianity through to the late Middle Ages, Renaissance and early modern period, where dignity appears for the first time in secular thought. The second part of the book picks up the growing debate in the Enlightenment and romantic period and from that point onwards concentrates on following closely the unfolding significance of the idea and ideal of dignity in the classical thought of philosophy and sociology and in more recent perspectives.

In exploring the legacy from such sources, ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ distinguishes dignity from other related ethical notions such as respect for persons, duty and compassion as they appear on the respective agendas of distributive justice, human (and animal) rights and natural law and citizenship. The course of the discussion illustrates just how wide ranging recourse to dignity has become as an ethical ideal and explores the reasons behind its resurgent modern deployment. Ironically, while the concept of dignity has, indeed, begun to feature in a range of recent public policy debates, insights from evolutionary psychology and biology tell a very different tale: that dignity is quite misconceived. ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ culminates in an analysis of the reasons behind dignity’s recently acquired negative connotation.

Preface and Note on Text Structure; Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction: The Distinction of Dignity; 2. Dignity, Freedom and Reason – From Ancient Greece to Early Modernity; 3. The Sense of Dignity in Moral Philosophy – From the Ethical Intuitionists to the Irrationalists; 4. Marx’s Critique of Morality – Natural Law, the State and Citizenship; 5. Classical Sociology’s Regard for Human Dignity; 6. The Human Face of Dignity Reflected in Phenomenol ogy and Existentialism; 7. Fresh Terms for Dignity Attending the Frankfurt School (Both ‘Old’ and ‘Young’); 8. Notes Sampling Research and Practice: Making Dignity Work; Making Dignity Care; 9. The Slighting of Dignity – The Critics Charter; 10. Conclusion: After the Recognition of Dignity; Notes; Bibliography; Index.



Publié par
Date de parution 16 avril 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783087860
Langue English

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Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity
Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity
Philip Hodgkiss
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
This edition first published in UK and USA 2018
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or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
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© Philip Hodgkiss 2018
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means
(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise),
without the prior written permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78308-784-6 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78308-784-6 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an e-book.
Preface and Note on Text Structure
Acknowledgements Chapter One Introduction: The Distinction of Dignity Chapter Two Dignity, Freedom and Reason: From Ancient Greece to Early Modernity Chapter Three The Sense of Dignity in Moral Philosophy: From the Ethical Intuitionists to the Irrationalists Chapter Four Marx’s Critique of Morality: Natural Law, the State and Citizenship Chapter Five Classical Sociology’s Regard for Human Dignity Chapter Six The Human Face of Dignity Reflected in Phenomenology and Existentialism Chapter Seven A Fresh Term for Dignity: Attending the Frankfurt School (Both ‘Old’ and ‘Young’) Chapter Eight Notes Sampling Research and Practice: Making Dignity Work; Making Dignity Care Chapter Nine The Slighting of Dignity: The Critic’s Charter Chapter Ten Conclusion: After the Recognition of Dignity
The full story of dignity is extremely complicated and the picture often handsomely confused.
It was deemed impracticable, therefore, within the bounds of this volume to trace every shift in the development of secular thought concerning dignity; only episodes informing the course of the present study are afforded space. The decision to leave on one side religious and legal concerns was taken, regrettably, on the grounds of economy of scale. The first draft of this book incorporating such domains of influence, as well as a more extended historical contextualization, stretched to twice the size of the present volume. What has been gathered from the cutting-room floor will now have to wait for a later airing. Although it is not the intention to confront the issue of human rights, or natural law, for that matter, fully head on, both concerns inevitably tend to ‘shadow’ any ongoing discussion of dignity and will need to be brought to light when the context requires it. There have been other reasons for economy in coverage, most notably, when the decision was taken to just not ‘go there’. For example, there has been some debate in the literature about the merits of the case for ‘the evolution of ethics’ and, for that matter, ‘the ethics of evolution’ (see Raphael 1994 , 115–29). At its most perfunctory, this might be taken to mean that ethics have just developed over time in the case of the former premise and that evolution is largely a good thing in the case of the latter. Moreover, as an adjunct to this kind of thinking, there has been debate as to whether certain moral or ethical states have sired others such as sympathy coming to be an impulsion for conscience. Such endeavour, apart from being highly speculative, is inordinately time consuming to no conclusive end, so mention, here, of any ‘evolutionary’ correlation of concepts is made only where it has quite obvious relevance. As it turns out, any tracing of the ‘evolution’ of dignity over historical time or its bearing on other concepts fashions a tapestry whereby the stitches are made largely of threads of supposition.
The structure of the book, then, is as follows.
Chapter One forms the introduction to the idea and ideal of dignity conceptually in order to ground the underlying assumptions of the discussion. An additional objective will be to distinguish the idea of dignity from other related concepts current in moral discourse (e.g. ‘justice’). This will serve to introduce one awkward and enduring question: Even after having established the conceptual credentials of dignity, can it still be worth retaining as of quite independent importance among a lexicon of related moral and ethical concepts? As we shall see, this question is at issue in the literature throughout.
Chapter Two traces developments in the world of antiquity, and from a consideration of various schools of philosophy in Ancient Greece, we can detect that not only is how to lead a ‘good’ life couched in recognizably ethical terms, but there is also the conception of an aesthetic of existence in which dignity has an implicit part to play. From the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance there is clear evidence in the literature of references to human dignity as a moral ideal, particularly as defined in terms of autonomy and freedom and increasingly in terms of human reason. Following on from the agenda set by Hobbes, the interventions of Descartes, Spinoza and Locke are encountered as they explore the tension between reason and the passions in ethical life.
Chapter Three begins by witnessing the work of the eighteenth-century ethical intuitionists, though it is with Hume, Smith and Rousseau that the philosophical canon becomes acquainted with the effective roles of pity, sympathy and compassion as facets of the moral order. Most crucial, however, is Kant’s emphasis on ‘duty’ in moral life, which introduces in the process the idea of respect and human dignity. What has turned out to be the disputed legacy of Kant will be reviewed in some detail, with the chapter taking up the criticisms most evident in the subsequent contributions of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
Chapter Four picks up, again, on the idea of natural law in its embrace of dignity as the discussion then turns to the substantive emergence of the state and, with it, the designation of the ‘citizen’. It will increasingly fall to the state to guarantee the rights and dignity of the citizen. We witness here, too, the birth of the concern with human rights as of substantive importance. While Kant and Hegel applauded the role of the state, a much more critical and jaundiced view is provided by Marx. One further substantive aspect of the chapter is to establish exactly what Marx took human dignity to denote in furthering his critique of capitalism and bourgeois morality.
Chapter Five considers the way in which classical sociology responded to the challenge of identifying the moral malaise of the new world order of capitalist industrialism. Disparate contributions from the end of the nineteenth century had a somewhat hidden common agenda: the identification of the essential vehicle of morality in a complex, industrial society – the dignity of the human subject. While philosophy, generally speaking, was detained by a range of related ethical concepts, sociology, perhaps because of the concern with the fate of the individual in industrial capitalism, cleaved to the idea of dignity more directly. The subtext of this chapter focuses on the crucial importance of the state in the further social and historical analysis of dignity.
Chapter Six examines the way in which certain reaches of existentialism and phenomenology, through emphasis on a type of ‘disclosure’, on ‘pre-reflection’ and on perception, created the necessary intuitive space to behold dignity. The focal point for these varied contributions, even in its direct repudiation, is the philosophy of Heidegger. Further contributions have located dignity in responsiveness to otherness lying ‘between’ individuals being beheld in the solicitude of the human face.
Chapter Seven evaluates the theorization of dignity in the thought of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory – in both its old and newer variants. The influences of Marx and Freud feature in high profile in the thought of Fromm, Marcuse and Adorno, where the present moment of a moral order predicated upon freedom, autonomy and selfhood is questioned. It is later, with Habermas, that this concern is replaced by the respective roles of communicative action and discourse ethics, which appears to result in the diminution of the ethical significance of the individual human subject. It would appear that more recent developments in philosophy and sociology have now come to question the existence of an ‘old-style’ individual possessed of consciousness and a self, with inevitable implications for an imputed moral personhood.
Chapter Eight examines the way in which the idea of dignity has increasingly featured in research on the world of work and focuses, in particular, on the contentious notion that the model of the citizen of political provenance can be imported into the workplace. The second part of this chapter looks at the way in which dignity has come to feature on the agenda of health and social care as the touchstone for promoting best practice.
Chapter Nine takes the opportunity of introducing to the debate a range of cases that hold no brief for dignity,

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