Human Rights and Human Dignity: A Case Against Separating the Conjoined Twins
Doris Schroeder asserts that the received view according to which human rights are derived from the inherent dignity of the human person must be rejected. She appeals to separate these conjoined twins (human dignity and human rights) by offering three knockdown arguments respectively captioned as “the justification paradox”, “Kantian cul-de-sac” and “hazard by association”. This paper submits a case for preserving the conjoined twins, both by refuting Schroeder’s arguments and at the same time proposing a positive appraisal of human dignity as foundational to human rights. The distributive account of a foundation, on which Schroeder’s arguments are premised, requires that a normative foundation must underpin every single human rights claim. Human rights claims, as diverse as they are, admit plurality of normative foundations (understood in the distributive sense) and human dignity directly underpins only a subset of the most basic human rights. There is another sense in which human dignity can be conceived as foundational to human rights, precisely as the general moral standing of human beings as holders of the bundle of moral human rights. Foundation as moral standing is consistent with the view that not every human rights-claim has its normative foundation in human dignity; thus, Schroeder is mistaken in thinking that failing to be a foundation in the distributive sense defeats the accepted view that human rights derive from human dignity.
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