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Understanding Human Dignity$
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Christopher McCrudden

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265642

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265642.001.0001

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Dignity Rather than Rights

Dignity Rather than Rights

(p.189) 10 Dignity Rather than Rights
Understanding Human Dignity

John Milbank

British Academy

This chapter argues that the yoking together of ‘dignity’ and ‘rights’ is unstable, reflecting the ongoing incompatibility of respectively the liberal and the Catholic traditions of human rights. Both traditions adopt an ‘internal’ and ‘external’ understanding of dignity. The liberal tradition aporetically focuses on subjective right and on circumstances of convenience or pleasure. The Catholic tradition reconciled the ancient but uneasy melding of ‘dignity’ as ‘internal’ reserve and as ‘external’ work or social exchange through reference to persona—the adoption of a role in relationship to God. This discourse of ‘dignity’ is perpetuated in Catholic social teaching. The chapter finally suggests the Catholic tradition must continue, through its blend of corporatism and personalism, to emphasize both hierarchy and social role, contrary to the liberal tradition, as central to the dignity of persons.

Keywords:   dignity, right, virtue, liberalism, Catholicism, grace, value, honour

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