Human Rights Review

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 331–348 | Cite as

Rethinking Dignity

  • Kristi GiselssonEmail author


The concept of dignity is widely debated as to its efficacy as a ground upon which to base respect particularly in relation to human rights. Traditional concepts of inherent dignity associate dignity with the possession of rationality and autonomy, which consequently excludes non-rational humans from being viewed as possessing inherent dignity and therefore equal and inherent worth. This paper offers a theory of inherent dignity based on an account of a common humanity within which all humans might be seen as possessing inherent worth and, therefore, deserving of being recognized and respected equally as ends in themselves. The theory is based on the communal practice and expectation of moral accountability, a practice that can be viewed as taking place universally both between and within human communities.


Inherent dignity Moral accountability Non-rational humans Human rights Animals 



I am deeply grateful for the invaluable advice of Jeff Malpas regarding earlier formulations of the concept of communal accountability. I am also much indebted to the insightful and helpful comments of three anonymous reviewers, and to the generous and detailed eye of Jennifer Francis.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.James Cook UniversitySmithfield CairnsAustralia

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