Dignity, Torture, and Human Rights

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 19 (5):1087-1101 (2016)
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This paper focuses on a distinct puzzle for understanding the relationship between dignity and human rights. The puzzle is that dignity appears to enter human rights theory in two distinct roles: on the one hand, dignity is commonly pointed to as the foundation of human rights, i.e. that in virtue of which we have human rights. On the other hand, dignity is commonly pointed to as that which is at risk in a subset of human rights, paradigmatically torture. But how can dignity underpin all human rights, and yet only be at stake in very specific human rights violations? And if dignity is lost in torture, how can the tortured retain their human rights? In this paper I offer a solution to these puzzles, in the form of a new theory of dignity. On this new theory, an individual’s dignity can be constituted via either of two pathways: the agent’s own normative competencies, or the authority of her community. The former is what’s typically at stake in practices such as torture; it in virtue of the latter that we have human rights.



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Suzy Killmister
Monash University

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References found in this work

Animal Liberation.Peter Singer (ed.) - 1977 - Avon Books.
On human rights.James Griffin - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Animal Liberation.Bill Puka & Peter Singer - 1977 - Philosophical Review 86 (4):557.
The Idea of Human Rights.Charles R. Beitz - 2009 - Oxford University Press.
The nature and value of rights.Joel Feinberg & Jan Narveson - 1970 - Journal of Value Inquiry 4 (4):243-260.

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