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From reason to practice in bioethicsAn anthology dedicated to the works of John Harris$
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John Coggon, Sarah Chan, Soren Holme, and Thomasine Kushner

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719096235

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719096235.001.0001

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Making sense of human dignity

Making sense of human dignity

(p.92) 9 Making sense of human dignity
From reason to practice in bioethics

Deryck Beyleveld

Manchester University Press

Discussions of human dignity have burgeoned in bioethics. John Harris, amongst others, has been highly critical of the vague, and often unreasoned appeals that this involves. Whilst agreeing with much of his stance, it is argued that the concept of human dignity is not merely important but essential for bioethics. Various ways in which dignity has been appealed to in order to constrain autonomous action for self-harm or action that effects only non-autonomous beings (“dignity as constraint”) are criticised, some of which appeal to Kant’s idea of human dignity. However, as applied to non-autonomous beings, this is a misuse of Kant, and anyway Kant’s use of the idea manifests a tension between using dignity as a constraint on autonomy and seeing it as reflecting the fundamental value of autonomy. A conception of “dignity as empowerment” founded on the moral philosophy of Alan Gewirth is outlined and defended.

Keywords:   Human Dignity, Kant, Gewirth, Dignity as Constraint, Dignity as Empowerment

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