Until the mid-nineteenth century, the concept of dignity almost invariably connoted elevated social rank, of the sort that marked nobility or ecclesiastic preferment. However, today dignity usually connotes a fundamental moral status belonging to all humans equally, which status is the basis of human rights. How did this radical change in meaning come about? And did anything like our moralized concept of dignity exist before it was named “dignity”? The introduction sketches the way that the chapters in this volume answer these questions, and in turn how they draw the arc of dignity’s conceptual development from Homeric Greek thought to medieval Christian and Islamic theology through eighteenth century enlightenment revolutions all the way to the contemporary era.
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