Academic journal article Theological Studies

Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics

Article excerpt

Human Dignity in Contemporary Ethics. By David G. Kirchhoffer. Amherst, NY: Teneo, 2013. Pp. xxii + 356. $25.

In recent decades an increasingly widespread use of "dignity talk" that makes absolutist, ambiguous, and often conflicting claims about human dignity has been met with a growing chorus of critics dismissing "human dignity as a vacuous, useless term generally employed as a substitute for other notions. Kirchhoffer's book persuasively rescues "human dignity" from friends and foes alike by illustrating how a more complex and multidimensional model of this idea can serve as a meaningful ethical concept.

Attending closely to the criticisms of "dignity talk" that fails to adequately define or consistently employ the concept of human dignity, K. acknowledges that a hermeneutics of suspicion has uncovered genuine weaknesses in the contemporary ethical use of this concept. At the same time, he makes a strong case that contemporary critics who dismiss the use of human dignity rely too exclusively on a hermeneutics of suspicion and a narrow understanding of the role of ethics and the nature of both the human person and moral experience.

K. proposes a middle path between uncritical use and complete dismissal of "dignity talk" by offering an enriched multidimensional model of human dignity, identifying four distinct dimensions of dignity--existential, cognitive-affective, behavioral, and social--and distinguishing between the realized and potential dignity of persons. …

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