The Old ‘New’ Dignitarianism

25 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2017 Last revised: 8 Jan 2018

See all articles by Raffael N Fasel

Raffael N Fasel

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 9, 2017


A movement referred to as ‘new dignitarianism’ has recently reclaimed human dignity to counter challenges to human uniqueness that have been raised on numerous fronts. I argue in this article that the ‘new’ dignitarianism is not really new at all. Drawing on a debate between two French Enlightenment philosophers, I argue that dignitarianism is best understood as an ideal-type that forms the negative image of another ideal-type, naturalism. My central argument is that once we conceive of these two ideal-types as opposite poles on a normative spectrum, a philosophical problem—the Zero-Sum Problem—emerges: any gains a concrete theory makes by approximating one ideal-type, it loses by disapproximating the other. This explains why little progress has been made on these issues since the Enlightenment. The article shows how accepting this fact is a first step to more practically viable theories that attempt to find an equilibrium between the two ideal-types.

Keywords: dignitarianism, human dignity, naturalism, spectrum, Zero-Sum Problem

Suggested Citation

Fasel, Raffael N, The Old ‘New’ Dignitarianism (September 9, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Raffael N Fasel (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

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