Dignity, Rank, and Rights by Jeremy Waldron & Meir Dan-Cohen

Dignity, Rank, and Rights by Jeremy Waldron & Meir Dan-Cohen

Author:Jeremy Waldron & Meir Dan-Cohen
Language: eng
Format: epub
Published: 2014-07-06T16:00:00+00:00

I am with Waldron. I see nothing incoherent in the idea that we should all be of high rank, however that came about. If you think that there is nothing more to that status than the differentiation of superior and inferior—if, like e.e. cummings, you think that freedom is “some under's mere above”—then the exercise will seem absurd and fruitless. But it seems only right to recognize that, if we are all Aristocrats and Noble Lords (and Ladies!) then it is an open question what elements of aristocratic status behavior we carry with us. The story that Waldron tells is principally one of “leveling up”—that we should all be accorded the treatment previously reserved for those with the highest status—and this is, I think, generally true. But it is not always so. There can be “leveling down” too—an aristocrat would once have addressed his servants by their first names but expected to be addressed by title himself. Now employer and employee expect to be on first-name terms.

I am also intrigued, if not exactly convinced, by Waldron's idea that we can understand important moral conceptions by moving, if I can put it this way, from politics to metaphysics. In contrast to(p.81) what might seem to be a commonsense view of the enterprise of moral theory—that we should first discover what are fundamental moral values and then look to legal and political forms within which they may be realized—we may do better, he thinks, to see those values as themselves products of social (that is, legal and political) institutions. This may sound like conventionalism (I was going to say “mere conventionalism”)—the idea that there is nothing more to the concept of human equality, for example, than the fact that we have decided to treat one another as equals. In which case, you may ask, who are we to decide? And why should our choice have any normative force? I do not believe that this is quite what Waldron means, but his view does, I think, have a “bootstrapping” quality that some may find off-putting. His position, to my mind, has more in common with Rawlsian moral constructivism than with conventionalism, but I shall say no more about these important issues of methodological principle because I have issues more specific to the idea of dignity to discuss.


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