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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 16, 2000

Race, Social Identity, and Human Dignity

Ernesto V. Garcia
Pages 127-139

The Social Nature of Kantian Dignity

Most scholars describe Kant’s idea of dignity as what I term his “vertical” account—that is, our human dignity insofar as we rise above heteronomous natural inclinations and realize human freedom by obeying the moral law. In this paper, I attempt to supplement this traditional view by exploring Kant’s neglected “horizontal” account of dignity—that is, our human dignity insofar as we exist in relationship with others. First, I examine the negative aspect of this horizontal account of dignity, found in Kant’s discussion of public heteronomy perpetuated by unjust social institutions. Second, I explore Kant’s idea of public dignity realized via social interaction: both (1) at the interpersonal level of education and friendship, and (2) at the societal level, in terms of moral education in the public sphere and a communal moral striving towards the highest good. I argue that we cannot realize our full human dignity for Kant outside of the context of concrete social relations with other moral agents.

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