Dignity, Rank, and Rights: The 2009 Tanner Lectures at UC Berkeley

70 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2009 Last revised: 21 Sep 2009

See all articles by Jeremy Waldron

Jeremy Waldron

New York University School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2009


In the first of these lectures, I present a conception of dignity that preserves its ancient association with rank and station, and (following Gregory Vlastos, James Whitman and others) a conception of human dignity that amounts to a generalization of high status across all human beings. The lectures argue that this provides a better understanding of human dignity and of the work it does in theories of rights than the better-known Kantian conception. The second lecture focuses particularly on the importance of dignity - understood in this way - as a status defining a person's relation to law: their presentation as persons capable of self-applying the law, capable of presenting and arguing a point of view, and capable of responding to law's demands without brute coercion. Together the two lectures also illuminate the relation between dignity conceived as the ground of rights and dignity conceived as the content of rights; they also illuminate important ideas about dignity as noble bearing and dignity as the subject of a right against degrading treatment; and they help us understand the sense in which dignity is better conceived as a status than as a kind of value.

Keywords: dignity, equality, human dignity,human rights, Kant, law, rank, rights, status

Suggested Citation

Waldron, Jeremy, Dignity, Rank, and Rights: The 2009 Tanner Lectures at UC Berkeley (September 1, 2009). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-50, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1461220 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1461220

Jeremy Waldron (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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