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Humanity without Dignity

Humanity without Dignity

Moral Equality, Respect, and Human Rights

Andrea Sangiovanni

ISBN 9780674049215

Publication date: 06/26/2017

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Name any valued human trait—intelligence, wit, charm, grace, strength—and you will find an inexhaustible variety and complexity in its expression among individuals. Yet we insist that such diversity does not provide grounds for differential treatment at the most basic level. Whatever merit, blame, praise, love, or hate we receive as beings with a particular past and a particular constitution, we are always and everywhere due equal respect merely as persons.

But why? Most who attempt to answer this question appeal to the idea that all human beings possess an intrinsic dignity and worth—grounded in our capacities, for example, to reason, reflect, or love—that raises us up in the order of nature. Andrea Sangiovanni rejects this predominant view and offers a radical alternative.

To understand our commitment to basic equality, Humanity without Dignity argues that we must begin with a consideration not of equality but of inequality. Rather than search for a chimerical value-bestowing capacity possessed to an equal extent by each one of us, we ought to ask: Why and when is it wrong to treat others as inferior? Sangiovanni comes to the conclusion that our commitment to moral equality is best explained by a rejection of cruelty rather than a celebration of rational capacity. He traces the impact of this fundamental shift for our understanding of human rights and the norms of anti-discrimination that underlie it.


  • In Humanity without Dignity, one of the most original and powerful political philosophers of our time presents his moral groundwork. Skeptical of rationalistic frameworks, Andrea Sangiovanni asks us to start from a consideration of human vulnerability and of the wrongness of treating others as inferior. The result is a comprehensive and humane vision of morality and politics for earthly, social beings—a vision that asks us to think anew about who and what we are. What more can we expect of a great piece of philosophy?

    —Rainer Forst, Goethe University Frankfurt


  • Andrea Sangiovanni is Reader in Philosophy at King’s College London.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press