African Conceptions of Human Dignity: Vitality and Community as the Ground of Human Rights

Human Rights Review 13 (1):19-37 (2012)
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I seek to advance enquiry into the philosophical question of in virtue of what human beings have a dignity of the sort that grounds human rights. I first draw on values salient in sub-Saharan African moral thought to construct two theoretically promising conceptions of human dignity, one grounded on vitality, or liveliness, and the other on our communal nature. I then argue that the vitality conception cannot account for several human rights that we intuitively have, while the community conception can do so. I conclude that, of plausible theories of human dignity with an African pedigree, the field ought to favour a community-based view and critically compare it in future work with the Kantian, autonomy-based view that dominates Western thinking about dignity.

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Thaddeus Metz
Cornell University (PhD)

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