XI KANT KONGRESS, XI Congresso Kantiano Internazionale

Moral Dignity and Moral Vulnerability in a Kantian Perspective

Christel Fricke

Edificio: Palazzo dei Congressi
Sala: sala Newton
Data: 26 maggio 2010 - 14:30
Ultima modifica: 13 aprile 2010


According to Kant, a human being has intrinsic value or dignity. In virtue of her or his dignity, a human being has a right to be morally respected. It also has a duty to respect other human beings, at least in so far as it is capable of free and responsible agency. This capacity does not only depend on being human, it also depends on having a healthy mind. Likewise, as Trudy Govier has put it, ‘what is involved in showing respect for an entity depends on what kind of entity it is’ ("Forgiveness and Revenge", London and New York 2002, Routledge).
The dignity of a human being is an a priori normative status. The attribution of dignity to a human being does not depend on whether and to what extent this being can act as a free and rational agent. People who have dignity include very young children, very old people who have lost their mind as well as mentally handicapped people. All these people have the right to be treated with respect.
The attribution of dignity to a human being does not depend on this being’s actual (intellectual and emotional) intelligence. Nor does it depend on its moral merit. Human dignity, as an a priori moral status, is not meritocratic.
However, when it comes to the question of the dignity of an agent who is accountable for his deeds but fails to respect the moral law nevertheless, Kant seems to introduce an idea of meritocracy into his notion of dignity. An agent who does not respect the moral law thereby causes damage to his dignity. I shall explore the meritocratic implications of Kant’s claims about the dignity of a moral offender and discuss whether and to what extent they can be made compatible with his idea of dignity as a non-meritocratic, a priori moral status.