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Plato and the Universality of Dignity

Author: Marek Piechowiak
Institution: Uniwersytet Humanistycznospołeczny SWPS, Instytut Prawa, Wydział Zamiejscowy w Poznaniu
Year of publication: 2015
Source: Show
Pages: 5-25
DOI Address: https://doi.org/10.15804/tpn2015.2.01
PDF: tpn/9/TPN2015201.pdf

An important argument in favour of recognising the cultural relativism and against universality of dignity and human rights, is the claim that the concept of dignity is a genuinely modern one. An analysis of a passage from the Demiurge’s speech in Timaeus reveals that Plato devoted time to reflecting on the question of what determines the qualitative difference between certain beings (gods and human being) and the world of things, and what forms the basis for the special treatment of these beings – issues that using the language of today can be described reasonably as dignity. The attributes of this form of dignity seem to overlap with the nature of dignity as we know it today. Moreover, Plato proposes a response both to the question of what dignity is like, as well as the question of what dignity is. It is existential perfection, rooted in a perfect manner of existence, based on a specific internal unity of being. Dignity is therefore primordial in regard to particular features and independent of their acquisition or loss. Plato’s approach allows him to postulate that people be treated as ends in themselves; an approach therefore that prohibits the treatment of people as objects. Both the state and law are ultimately subordinated to the good of the individual, rather than the individual to the good of the state.

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