Web Letters | The Nation

Dignity’s Due > Letters

Human dignity and human rights

There is some interesting history of the contemporary nexus between the ideas of human dignity and human rights in Samuel Moyn’s article. That nexus obviously draws on the modern meaning of dignity, which is far broader than—even distinct from—the notion of “rank” that lies at the etymological origin of the term. Needless to say, the meaning of words are not dictated by their etymological origin, but by usage. In modern usage the term “dignity” refers to matters of style and manners (as in the Oxford Dictionary’s “a calm or serious manner or style”) more immediately than to matters of rank. In the sense of intrinsic worth, its linkage to the notion of universal human rights lies far closer at hand than when proceeding from the original sense of the term, as Moyn does, and this would seem to go a long way towards accounting for the absence of the term from early formulations of the notion of human rights.



Oct 23 2013 - 12:35pm