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Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity

Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity

By Philip Hodgkiss

‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ deals with the legacy from the classical literature of philosophy and sociology of the theorization of the idea and ideal of dignity, which is explored in the wider context of morality, ethics and the basis of the normative order.

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April 2018

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EPUB, 208 Pages


April 2018

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About This Book

Dignity has a remarkable resonance in contemporary life. It is used as a touchstone to mark out what is deemed good, right or proper. In all walks of public life dignity is invoked as having a talismanic power to distil the final essence of human existence. Yet, in such public discourse, largely uninformed by the signal role dignity has played in ethical thought, we rarely become acquainted with the source of dignity's imputed magical powers. ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ is a sustained attempt to rectify this oversight by following the fortunes of the idea of dignity from its humble origins until it comes to represent in our time a universal ethical ideal.

Beginning by tracing the source of dignity’s occult status from its earliest appearance in the life and thought of ancient Greece, ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ proceeds to identify dignity in the theological ethics of early Christianity through to the late Middle Ages, Renaissance and early modern period, where dignity appears for the first time in secular thought. The second part of the book picks up the growing debate in the Enlightenment and romantic period and from that point onwards concentrates on following closely the unfolding significance of the idea and ideal of dignity in the classical thought of philosophy and sociology and in more recent perspectives.

In exploring the legacy from such sources, ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ distinguishes dignity from other related ethical notions such as respect for persons, duty and compassion as they appear on the respective agendas of distributive justice, human (and animal) rights and natural law and citizenship. The course of the discussion illustrates just how wide ranging recourse to dignity has become as an ethical ideal and explores the reasons behind its resurgent modern deployment. Ironically, while the concept of dignity has, indeed, begun to feature in a range of recent public policy debates, insights from evolutionary psychology and biology tell a very different tale: that dignity is quite misconceived. ‘Social Thought and Rival Claims to the Moral Ideal of Dignity’ culminates in an analysis of the reasons behind dignity’s recently acquired negative connotation.


‘In this illuminating and detailed exploration of the concept of dignity, Hodgkiss discusses it in relation to the history of moral thought from Ancient Greece to the present day. He provides us with an invaluable philosophical and political account of its development and of the challenges we face in pursuing a dignified life.’
—Ken McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Author Information

Philip Hodgkiss is a sociologist who has been drawn increasingly to moral philosophy and ethics to research the origins of the idea and ideal of dignity. He is the author of The Making of the Modern Mind (2001) and has contributed chapters to various collections and edited volumes.


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Table of Contents

Preface and Note on Text Structure; Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction: The Distinction of Dignity; 2. Dignity, Freedom and Reason – From Ancient Greece to Early Modernity; 3. The Sense of Dignity in Moral Philosophy – From the Ethical Intuitionists to the Irrationalists; 4. Marx’s Critique of Morality – Natural Law, the State and Citizenship; 5. Classical Sociology’s Regard for Human Dignity; 6. The Human Face of Dignity Reflected in Phenomenol ogy and Existentialism; 7. Fresh Terms for Dignity Attending the Frankfurt School (Both ‘Old’ and ‘Young’); 8. Notes Sampling Research and Practice: Making Dignity Work; Making Dignity Care; 9. The Slighting of Dignity – The Critics Charter; 10. Conclusion: After the Recognition of Dignity; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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