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Dignity – A History - Oxford Scholarship Online
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Dignity: A History

Remy Debes


The concept of dignity typically brings to mind an idea of moral status that supposedly belongs to all humans equally, and which serves as the basis of human rights. But this moralized meaning of dignity is historically very young. Until the mid-nineteenth century, dignity suggested an idea about merit: it connoted elevated social rank, of the sort that marked nobility or ecclesiastic preferment. What explains this radical change in meaning? And before this change, did anything like the moralized concept of dignity exist, that is, before it was named by the term “dignity”? If so, exactly how o ... More

Keywords: human dignity, human worth, dignitas, imago Dei, human rights, civil rights, equality, egalitarianism, respect, liberty

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199385997
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2017 DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199385997.001.0001


Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Remy Debes, editor
Associate Professor of Philosophy, The University of Memphis

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