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Environmental Values

Darwinism and Human Dignity

Ben Dixon

Environmental Values 16(2007): 23-42. doi: 10.3197/096327107780160300


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, morality, James Rachels, animals, moral status, human dignity, conscience, institutions

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

'Other Animal Ethics' and the Demand for Difference Elisa Aaltola

The Value of Nature's Otherness Simon A. Hailwood

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles

Value Pluralism and Consistency Maximisation in the Writings of Aldo Leopold: Moving Beyond Callicott's Interpretations of the Land Ethic.Ben Dixon

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