Whereas the idea of human rights is often imagined as placing limits on the political sphere from a standpoint outside it, I argue that it is better conceived as a political project that draws authority from its claim to be apolitical. Such an understanding enables us to historicize human rights and to assess it politically and morally, alongside other normative projects. Samuel Moyn has argued that the contemporary understanding of human rights as rooted in the dignity of the person emerged out of twentieth-century Catholic personalist theology. In the latter half of the essay I consider Simone Weil’s objections to the personalist conception of dignity and suggest that Weil’s idea of an impersonal, sovereign good provides an alternative conception of value.
The development of human rights thinking in the United Nations and the Catholic Church has operated on a separate track from the development of thinking regarding environmental concerns. This paper traces this historical divergence and some factors contributing to this divergence. It argues that climate stability is the most pressing earth system problem and not only should not be neglected by human rights thinkers (as in Catholic circles) or actively resisted in human rights circles (as argued by a prominent academic human rights lawyer); rather, a stable climate system should be considered a basic human right.
This paper investigates the extent to which Christian tradition can be used to support human dignity and human rights in contemporary society. It explores the Christian tradition for ideas that correspond to the four main dimensions of human dignity: anthropological, moral, legal, and practical. It examines how these dimensions relate to the two main Christian perspectives that define human dignity, namely the imago Dei paradigm and dignity of the human soul or person. Concluding observations demonstrate that the corresponding Christian ideas offer a solid foundation for developing a strong Christian narrative and engagement in support of human dignity and human rights. However, an analysis of the two dominating concepts also indicates that a reception that excludes the universal aspect of the imago Dei paradigm can endanger a full acceptance of human dignity and human rights. Therefore, it is necessary to continue existing ecumenical efforts to create a complementary reading of the two traditions.
Catholic teaching proposes a definition of sexual human dignity that finds truth and love in the meaning of sexual acts between spouses in heterosexual marriage. For those acts to be moral between fertile couples, they must be potentially-reproductive acts, but that requirement does not hold for infertile couples. The Church proposes sexual norms and legislation based on that definition. We propose a definition of human sexuality that finds love and truth in all just and loving heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual potentially-reproductive and non-reproductive acts, and we propose norms and legislation based on that definition. Underlying these different proposals are different sexual anthropologies and definitions of human dignity. In this paper we first briefly explain and then critique Catholic teaching on homosexual orientation, moral norms governing homosexual relationships, and legislative norms derived from these teachings and defended by the Church.
Human rights and their universality can lead to restrictions for individuals resulting from duties, which correspond to human rights of all human beings. This characteristic of human rights emphasizes the need for an ethical justification. Addressing the question of how human rights can be justified represents, therefore, an expression of respect for pluralism and particularity. Beyond that, human dignity and human rights lay the foundation for pluralism and particularity as they see all human beings as individuals that are all different and unique, and not as members of a collective. Only human rights protection of the autonomy of each individual allows all human beings to be particular and fosters pluralism. Finally, the concept of “adaptation” contributes to an understanding of the interaction between pluralism and particularity and human dignity and human rights as their foundation by capturing the relationship between human dignity and human rights and religious and worldview-based communities.
This paper considers the question of women’s ordination to the sacramental priesthood in the context of human dignity and rights. Differentiating between two forms of ontological or intrinsic dignity – the universal dignity of the human being made in the imago Dei, and the particular dignity of those baptised into the imago Trinitatis – it argues that the refusal of ordination to women is a violation of baptismal dignity that constitutes a refusal of women’s rights. It analyses the arguments against women’s ordination and shows them to be based on a misreading of Thomas Aquinas, on the innovative concept of sexual complementarity which has replaced the earlier hierarchical model of sexual difference, and on appeals to mystery that might be better described as mystification. It concludes that the refusal to allow women to respond to the call to ordination is based on a modern form of essentialised sexual difference that is alien to the Catholic tradition and that violates Christological orthodoxy, insofar as it suggests that women are not able to image Christ.
The idea of human dignity is an ancient one. It has been the object of reflection with different approaches, during the various periods in the history of philosophical, theological, and ethical thought. This essay focuses on the most relevant approaches to the idea of human dignity in this cultural evolution, proposing a look at the ontological paradigm and its limits, the ethical paradigm and its values, and the theological paradigm and its resources. An anthropological reading concludes this essay, bringing out the relational value of the idea of human dignity. Based on this particular focus, the idea of human dignity assumes a form of critical thinking that makes us sensitive to the real inequalities between human beings and opens the possibility of ethical and political practices of recognition and emancipation.
The enquiry whether human dignity as the translation of the biblical designation of the human person as imago Dei should continue to be the framework used to ground human rights and specify their realisation, is developed in five parts. The first identifies two understandings of dignity in the public realm, one inherent-transcendental, the other empirically verifiable. The second section compares the use of “dignity” in three traditions of Catholic Theological Ethics: virtue, natural law, and autonomy. In view of doubts whether theological anthropology should still be the primary location for expounding the meaning of imago Dei, the third section discusses attempts to absorb anthropology into ecclesiology. The modern history of reception of this biblical term by J.G. Herder is outlined in section four, before drawing conclusions from the previous enquiries for the question which language theological ethics should use in public discourse, imago Dei or dignity.
Two generations after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is a need to evaluate what has been achieved when it comes to discussions on human dignity and human rights in terms of their foundations and applications. This issue of the Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society addresses this task from the point of view of theological ethics and religious studies. Part One of this collection provides a solid foundation for defining human dignity and promoting human rights. Part Two demonstrates how this foundation can be applied to current and pressing ethical, legal, and theological issues confronting humanity, by addressing four exemplary issues (homosexuality, gender, migrants, and climate change). Combined, these essays point a way forward for the ongoing development of a comprehensive, comprehensible, consistent, and credible definition of human dignity and human rights and their role in addressing ongoing ethical, legal, and theological issues.
An ethics of vulnerability, that develops out of an imago Dei/human dignity presupposition, can provide a foundation for a virtue ethics that orients us toward the right responsiveness to contemporary challenges. It explores a vulnerability rooted in imago Dei language and then further develops a vulnerability foundation that is based not primarily on need but on capacity. It concludes offering particular virtues (humility, vigilance, mercy and hospitality) that help in the practice of recognizing human dignity.