Skip to main content

Steve Riley on Human Dignity

[Steve who was interviewed earlier here gives his pub/BBQ answer to the question: What gives a human dignity? Please comment, with questions, requests for clarification, and even rebuttals, he wont mind. I'm hoping this will turn into a good discussion as human rights are something we all talk about but seldom think critically about.]

Contemporary (ethical and legal) usage of ‘dignity’ is still informed (albeit opaquely) by a Christian view of dignity which insists that Man is Imago Dei and, as such, elevated above the rest of Creation. That notion of being our qualitatively different to the other bits of Creation (and even higher animals) seems to me correct and doesn’t necessarily need God or any messy metaphysics. Because of things like sophisticated cultural practices, the meaning that we invest in the world, distinctive forms of consciousness, a distinctive susceptibility to mental and not just physical suffering, means that we are different to other animals. How these facts translate into values is a very different and difficult question.

Christian (particularly Catholic) thought has, via dignity, emphasised the sanctity of humans and all human ‘matter’ (regardless of its capabilities, capacities or potential) generating largely conservative ethical consequences (especially opposition to any ‘intervention’ which treats human matter as material on a par with non-human matter). It seems to me that these conservative consequences probably do flow from Imago Dei, but not necessarily from the ‘qualitative differences’ I identified (culture, consciousness, mental suffering etc.). In fact, I’m not quite sure how we derive values from facts full stop.

What is true is that dignity remains a meaningful part of our moral vocabulary, particularly in terms of articulating violation or inhumanity. To that extent it is something best ‘observed in the breach’: difficult to say what it is, but we can see when it’s diminished or destroyed. More positively, it generally functions as a way of opposing the utility of utilitarianism: talking about human dignity is a way of saying ‘there’s more to human life than what’s useful’ and ‘regardless of the will and needs of the majority, each individual is valuable’.

[So let us know what you think :-)]

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .