A Challenge to the Kantian Notion of Intrinsic and Inextinguishable Dignity
The current use of the notion of human dignity is drenched deeply in Kant’s moral theory and entails three basic premises, namely: dignity is seen as a comfort zone that guarantees certain normative expectations regarding how we should act to respect people’s worth; dignity is seen as essentially intrinsic to humanity; and, dignity is seen as inextinguishable. If we were to understand dignity according to these premises we shall need to analyse what are the sources of that intrinsic character as well as the conditions for its inextinguishable character. We need to ask under what basis we claim that someone has dignity and if there exists any action that could terminate it. Kant grounded dignity in the capacity for autonomy possessed by rational agents. This capacity being innate and inextinguishable faces problems though, and in this paper I challenge this notion showing that it runs against intuition and neglects dignity to children and the mentally disabled. I will then suggest to disregard Kant’s proposal and ground dignity elsewhere: in the capacity to care shown by both human and non-humans agents (Jaworska 2007). Although this new ground for dignity is more satisfactory as it meets our intuitions in granting certain individuals with dignity; it overrides the view of dignity as inextinguishable, and by doing so it does not favour the common belief of dignity as a last resource to hang on to in moment of despair.