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Suzy Killmister: Two Concepts of Dignity?

Lecture organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Dignity is one of those slippery concepts that are invoked for radically different – and seemingly incompatible – purposes. Dignity is commonly taken to be the quality that people like the Queen and Nelson Mandela have, and that the drunken youth urinating on the street lacks. Just as commonly, dignity is taken to be an inherent feature that all persons share. Dignity demands that we forbid assisted suicide, or that we allow it, depending who we listen to. Dignity is supposedly tied to subjective feelings of humiliation, yet it seems possible to violate the dignity of those without the cognitive capacities to experience humiliation.

These tensions and inconsistencies have led some to declare dignity useless, and others to declare that there are actually multiple irreducible concepts at work. In this paper I seek to defend a semi-unified concept of dignity that goes some way towards accounting for the seeming inconsistencies outlined above. What ties the concept together is the role of normative standards in conferring dignity; the internal division tracks the source of these normative standards, which I argue can come either from the individual herself, or from the community of which she is a member.

Suzy Killmister

Suzy Killmister is an Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut, with a joint position in the Philosophy Department and the Human Rights Institute.  Her current research focus is on autonomy, and she also works on the philosophy of human rights, and multiculturalism. Her work has appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Social Theory and Practice, and Noûs.

When & where?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015, 3.15-5 pm
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:26 May 2015 5.35 p.m.