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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 14, 1998

Other Applied Ethics

Dan Egonsson
Pages 24-28

The Importance of Being Human

In this paper I will defend a kind of human-centered perspective regarding ethical questions wherein the interests of humans and nonhumans alike are involved. Compared to other species, however, the idea that there is something special about being human is commonly vague. For example, it is unclear whether the thought is (1) being a human being is important in itself, or (2) it is important to be like a human being — that is, to have the capacities which a normal adult human being enjoys. I build my defense of human dignity on the claim that we regard a biological human being as a being of intrinsic importance, which is what (1) is about. However, I also consider the ethical implications of (2), which concerns the moral significance of personhood. I argue that the idea of a special intrinsic value of being a human is applicable only to cases where we deal with nonpersons. I claim that in spite of this qualification, we might defend a substantial principle of human dignity founded upon this generalization.

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