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Keywords:

  • dignity;
  • universal declaration;
  • inherency;
  • rights;
  • transcendence;
  • heuristic concept

ABSTRACT

This essay examines the function of the concept of human dignity (both as an inherent feature of human existence and as an ideal achievement) in the United Nations's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It explains why the key framers of the document affirmed an inherent human dignity in order to provide an explanatory basis for the validity of universal human rights while eschewing any religious or metaphysical justification for this affirmation. It argues that the key framers, while aware of the Christian anthropology informing the modern Western concept of the dignity of the person, grasped (1) that the Declaration, to be ratifiable, would need to be free of religious reference, and also (2) that the notion of inherency suffices to suggest heuristically not only a universal human nature but also, crucially, a transcendent reality in which all persons participate.