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Perhaps by lumping so much attention on his motivation I could be accused of missing the forest for the trees, but I guess I don't see the point of going into the forest without a good reason.

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There be monsters there! Most generally, Waldron is skeptical about the adequacy of any moral approach to theorizing human dignity. Throughout both lectures Waldron sets his defense of the transvaluation claim against the background of a hypothesis that more might be gained philosophically, practically, and jurisprudentially by dropping the assumption that dignity is essentially, or even primarily, a moral concept.

Waldron argues, again and again, in one way or other, "we might do better by considering first how dignity works as a legal concept -- and then model what we want to do with it morally on that" Sometimes he speaks as if the point here is the perfectly innocent suggestion that collective theorizing about human dignity could be illuminated and advanced if we do not limit ourselves to moral theory -- a claim any moralist can happily concede. At other moments, however, Waldron makes clear his belief that there are deficiencies to moral theoretical approaches to human dignity -- deficiencies the jurisprudential theory can remedy.

These latter skeptical claims should not be uncritically conceded.

Presentations and Lectures

So, are there deficiencies to moral theorizing about dignity demanding remedy by a jurisprudential account like Waldron's? Waldron calls these connotations "moral orthopedics" which is a somewhat ironic label, given that he thinks moral theories fail to do justice to such connotations. From this perspective, Waldron thinks it plainly intuitive to look for guidance on dignity from jurisprudence instead of morality because legal discourse is already saturated with such moral orthopedics if not virtually devoid of language of "inherent worth".

This is made most obvious in rights law, which is replete with language connoting ideas like "having a certain sort of presence," "uprightness of bearing," "self-presentation as someone to be reckoned with," and so on.

Let us grant for a moment that Waldron is right about the prevalence and even fittingness of "moral orthopedics" in the law. There are two prima facie problems with motivating his method this way. First, Waldron sets his method up as against the alternative of moral theory, but he doesn't always do a good job of articulating what exactly he takes the challenge for morality to be. Does he think moral theory simply doesn't explain, vindicate, and in turn adequately incorporate connotations of moral bearing -- that is, in the current state of the art?

Ultimately, I'm not sure. Waldron's lectures support both readings. For example, the earlier quoted declaration that we might start with a jurisprudential analysis and then "model what we want to do with it morally on that" 47 , lends itself to the softer reading. That sort of claim lends itself to the stronger reading.


  • 2013.08.21.
  • Tanner Lectures on Human Values.
  • 9780199915439 - Dignity, Rank, and Rights (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures) by Jeremy Waldron!
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But let me table the latter claim for just a moment. The other prima facie problem with Waldron's motivation as I've described it so far is that it risks begging the original question. Indeed, he argues that it is a hang up of only philosophical moralizing as opposed to legal theory or lay morality , to keep insisting that "dignity" connotes the idea of a moral value or "inner worth.

If only we translated this as "worth" i. There is some foot-stomping here.

Jeremy Waldron

Perhaps the last suggestion seems a bit perverse; and frankly, I don't really want to deny that connotations of "noble bearing" are live. But putting the moralist's question this way highlights the dogmatism in Waldron's argument with respect to whether there is a privileged connotation of dignity as noble bearing, either in philosophy or the everyday. Meanings change all the time. And I for one reject all these claims.

Jeremy Waldron, Dignity, Rank, and Rights - PhilPapers

I reject Waldron's assumption that 'dignity' as used today obviously connotes rank instead of inherent worth. I even reject that this usage is solely confined to etymological innovations of our contemporary era though I won't try to defend my hunch on this point here. Likewise I reject Raz's silly suggestion -- assuming Waldron is reporting Raz accurately -- that 'dignity' is not part of everyday moral conversation. Lay moral discourse around the world baldly debunks any such claim, from protest over recent sexual violence against women in India, to outcry over garment worker conditions in Bangledesh, to thankfully successful movements for gay rights here in the United States.

I must press one final aspect of my complaint about this part of Waldron's motivation. As I've said, he leverages the connotations of noble bearing against alternative accounts of human dignity, especially moral theories, in a way that seems to be justified only if we grant what we need not that such conceptual work is a desideratum of a successful, comprehensive theory of human dignity. Waldron goes so far as to say that, while terminology is always cheap, to use 'dignity' to connote a moral value like inherent worth requires us to "pay it extra" But on top of the worries I've raised so far, this aspect of Waldron's argument is in tension with his own recurring self-described motive and ultimately normative injunction "to keep faith" with the older connotations of noble bearing.

Dignity and Rank 2. Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. It contains a bold inversion of almost all philosophical treatments of dignity as something like a metaphysical ground for moral claims. Waldron eschews this approach by understanding dignity as a substantive and structural feature of the way that legal orders establish rank and statusELthis bold approach allows Waldron to move forward a much-needed philosophical conversation about this deeply interesting and important concept.

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Academic Skip to main content. This understanding may be pursued for its own intrinsic worth, but it may also eventually have practical consequences for the quality of personal and social life.


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It is considered one of the top lecture series among top universities, [3] and being appointed a lectureship is a recognition of the scholar's "extra-ordinary achievement" in the field of human values. Permanent lectureships are established at the following nine institutions: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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