Kantian Journal

2019 Vol. 38. No. 1

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Kant on Human Dignity: Autonomy, Humanity, and Human Rights



This paper explores the new frontier within Kantian scholarship which suggests that Kant places so much special importance on the value of rational nature that the supreme principle of morality and the concept of human dignity are both grounded on it. Advocates of this reading argue that the notion of autonomy and dignity should now be considered as the central claim of Kant’s ethics, rather than the universalisation of maxims. Kant’s ethics are termed as repugnant for they place a high demand on the universalisation of maxims as a universal moral principle. As a result, they argue that there is an urgent need to rescue Kant’s ethics from the controversies surrounding maxims and universalisability, and the best way to rescue his ethics is by “leaving deontology behind”. It must be left behind because the categorical imperative is not needed in order to rescue Kant’s ethics, as deontology is often overrated. Consequently, the highest duties of the human being are to ensure that his fellow human beings enjoy unhindered autonomy and receive the honour that their dignity duly deserves, as well as to look after their welfare and treat them with respect, regardless of their dispositions. I review recent literature to appraise this new frontier within Kantian scholarship. I also explore the works of philosophers, such as Herman, Korsgaard, Wood, Höffe, and, specifically, Hill, on Kant’s conception of human dignity in relation to its conception as autonomy, humanity, and the source of human rights.


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