The Old ‘New’ Dignitarianism
27 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 9, 2017
Recent times have witnessed a resurrection of human dignity. In an effort to counter the challenges to human uniqueness posed by advances in the biotechnologies, zoological findings about the striking similarities between humans and other animals, as well as developments in artificial intelligence, a movement referred to as the ‘new dignitarianism’ has reclaimed the special dignity of the human. By drawing on an Enlightenment debate between two philosophers, this article shows that there is hardly anything new about the ‘new’ dignitarians. The main purpose of the article is not historical, however. To analyse why contemporary arguments are in many ways a reiteration of this Enlightenment debate, I propose to understand them as representative of two streams of thinking: dignitarianism and naturalism. After examining the three core tenets of these conceptions, I argue that they stake out a spectrum of approaches with the aid of which we can analyse the strengths and weaknesses of naturalist and egalitarian theories, past and present. The article thus makes two main claims: first, the dignitarian response to naturalist challenges is not new, and second, understanding the core tenets of these views allows us to better evaluate arguments made on the spectrum between naturalism and dignitarianism.
Keywords: dignitarianism, naturalism, biotechnology, animal rights, artificial intelligence, Enlightenment
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