IV. SOME PITFALLS

The increasing prominence of dignity-talk is often identified with or seen as part of what has come to be called the rights discourse. Under the interpretation I have outlined, however, it is more accurate to see the rise of dignity as having a different focal point and so as inviting a moral discourse more concerned with values. As a centerpiece of such a discourse, the concept of dignity offers a platform on which both secular and religious humanism can meet to conduct a mutually beneficial dialogue. But although it is possible to embrace the ideal of human dignity without the support of a religious warrant or Kantian metaphysics, those sources may not be easy to escape. A central cluster of issues to which I would like to draw attention concerns the nature of the person whose dignity we assert and so links up with our discussion of boundaries of self in previous chapters. Dignity is the supreme worth of every human being, but what does that include? The scope of dignity must track the boundaries of the self, but where do these boundaries lie? When dignity mandates respect for persons, what is the precise target of this respect? The idea of human dignity inevitably raises such pressing questions of human ontology. Extricating the concept of dignity from its religious and metaphysical origins, however, excludes the answers to these questions proffered by religious doctrine and by Kantian metaphysics and so leaves them open. But unless we are careful, the very same religious and metaphysical ghosts we hope to exorcise may surreptitiously come to haunt us through this opening. Three specific pitfalls illustrate this wider theme. I label them, tendentiously, religious cooptation, choice worship, and body fetishism. I will briefly indicate each.

 
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