A richer appreciation of dignity helps in the quest for higher ethical standards
A new book written by Professor Doris Schroeder along with the former President of Iran, Mr Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr unravels the different meanings of dignity, as part of a wider effort to raise the bar for international research ethics.
The work explores both Western philosophical and Middle Eastern Koranic interpretations of the concept of ‘dignity’. They write that it is possible to, ‘(…) find an inner kernel, in discussions on the meaning of dignity, that unites major Western and Middle Eastern streams of thought: dignity as a sense of self-worth, which we have a duty to develop and respect in ourselves and a duty to protect in others.’
As the authors contend, the value of making a distinction between dignity in the Middle East and West is that it unpicks the assumptions inherent in attempts to universalise notions of dignity, for example with the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. They argue that with the popular term used in so many contexts, its precise meaning is often only vaguely understood, sometimes actively contradictory, and so occasionally runs the risk of being rendered actually meaningless.
This semantic disentangling is an undertaking that Professor Schroeder believes to be necessary; as she writes, ‘Because dignity is one of the most controversial concepts of the 20th and 21st centuries.’ Equally however, she makes the point that universally agreed interpretations do have a clear function, for example as they facilitate multicultural dialogue.