The tension between self governance and absolute inner worth in Kant’s moral philosophy
Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics, School of Law, The University of Manchester, Williamson Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; [email protected]
Original version received 11 July 2004
Revised version received 24 January 2005
Accepted for publication 19 February 2005
The concepts of autonomy as the self governance of individuals and dignity as the inner worth of human beings play an important role in contemporary bioethics. Since both notions are crucial to Immanuel Kant’s moral theory, it would be tempting to think that Kantian ethics could ease the friction between the two concepts. It is argued in this paper, however, that this line of thought cannot be supported by Kant’s original ideas. While he did make a conscious effort to bring autonomy and dignity together, his emphasis on the absolute inner worth of our collective humanity made it impossible for him to embrace fully the personal self determination of individuals, as it is usually understood in today’s liberal thinking.
Keywords: autonomy; dignity; ethics; Kant; Kantian
Source: Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31:645-647.