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Darwinism and Human Dignity

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James Rachels argued against the possibility of finding some moral capacity in humans that confers upon them a unique dignity. His argument contends that Darwinism challenges such attempts, because Darwinism predicts that any morally valuable capacity able to bestow a unique dignity is likely present to a degree within both humans and non-human animals alike. I make the case, however, that some of Darwin's own thoughts regarding the nature of conscience provide a springboard for criticising Rachels's claim here. Using Darwin's thoughts regarding conscience, I begin the project of grounding a revised account of human dignity in the human tendency to enshrine products of conscience within institutions. Specifically, I argue that this new account of human dignity is partly contingent upon humans creating institutions morally respectful of the values present within non-human nature.

Keywords: Darwin; James Rachels; animals; conscience; human dignity; institutions; moral status; morality

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2007

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has an impact factor (2015) of 1.311.
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