, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 19-37
Date: 05 Aug 2011

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

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Introduction

Many human rights theorists, moral philosophers and jurisprudential scholars believe that the reason why human beings are morally so important is that they have a dignity. To have a dignity, in the sense meant here, is roughly to have a superlative non-instrumental value that deserves respectful treatment; there is some facet of characteristic human nature that is good for its own sake to a greater degree than anything else in the physical world and that grounds human rights. The question I seek to make headway in answering is: in virtue of what do human beings have a dignity? What is it that makes us (typically) worth more than members of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms?

This question supposes that dignity is a clear, distinct and useful concept, an assumption that I do not seek to defend systematically against those who doubt it.

For influential sceptics, see Macklin (2003), Pinker (2008) and Schüklenk and Pacholczyk (2010). I do provide an analysis of the concep