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Hardcover | Out of Print | 368 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 2 color photos, 2 color illus., 2 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus., 2 tables | September 2012 | ISBN: 9780262017978
Paperback | $25.00 Short | £19.95 | 368 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 2 color photos, 2 color illus., 2 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus., 2 tables | January 2014 | ISBN: 9780262525978
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Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility

The New Language of Global Bioethics and Biolaw


“Human dignity” has been enshrined in international agreements and national constitutions as a fundamental human right. The World Medical Association calls on physicians to respect human dignity and to discharge their duties with dignity. And yet human dignity is a term--like love, hope, and justice--that is intuitively grasped but never clearly defined. Some ethicists and bioethicists dismiss it; other thinkers point to its use in the service of particular ideologies. In this book, Michael Barilan offers an urgently needed, nonideological, and thorough conceptual clarification of human dignity and human rights, relating these ideas to current issues in ethics, law, and bioethics.

Combining social history, history of ideas, moral theology, applied ethics, and political theory, Barilan tells the story of human dignity as a background moral ethos to human rights. After setting the problem in its scholarly context, he offers a hermeneutics of the formative texts on Imago Dei; provides a philosophical explication of the value of human dignity and of vulnerability; presents a comprehensive theory of human rights from a natural, humanist perspective; explores issues of moral status; and examines the value of responsibility as a link between virtue ethics and human dignity and rights.

Barilan accompanies his theoretical claim with numerous practical illustrations, linking his theory to such issues in bioethics as end-of-life care, cloning, abortion, torture, treatment of the mentally incapacitated, the right to health care, the human organ market, disability and notions of difference, and privacy, highlighting many relevant legal aspects in constitutional and humanitarian law.

About the Author

Yechiel Michael Barilan is a practicing physician, specialist in internal medicine, and Associate Professor of Medical Education in the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University.

Table of Contents

  • Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility
  • Basic Bioethics
  • Arthur Caplan, editor
  • A complete list of the books in the Basic Bioethics series appears at the back of this book.
  • Human Dignity, Human Rights, and Responsibility
  • The New Language of Global Bioethics and Biolaw
  • Yechiel Michael Barilan
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2012
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. For information, please email or write to Special Sales Department, The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
  • This book was set in Sabon by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited, Hong Kong. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Barilan, Yechiel Michael, 1966–.
  • Human dignity, human rights, and responsibility : the new language of global bioethics and biolaw / Yechiel Michael Barilan.
  •  p. cm.—(Basic bioethics)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01797-8 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. Respect for persons.  2. Bioethics.  3. Medical ethics.  4. Human rights. I. Title.
  • BJ1533.R42B37 2012
  • 179.7—dc23
  • 2012004958
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • This whole endeavor is dedicated to Anna
  • Contents
  • Contents
  • Contents
  • Series Foreword xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • 1 Introduction 1
  • An Overview of the Book in Three Paragraphs 1
  • Human Dignity: The Challenges 2
  • On the Terminology Used in This Book 4
  • Cultural Orientation 17
  • On the Methodology 18
  • Human Dignity and Rights Today: The Agenda 20
  • 2 Hermeneutics and the History of Human Dignity 23
  • An Overview of the History of Human Rights 23
  • Hermeneutics of the Biblical Sources 28
  • Judaism 41
  • Stoicism 46
  • Christianity 47
  • Torture: Turning One against Oneself 53
  • Lactantius 57
  • Slavery and Human Dignity 59
  • Ezra, Lactantius, and Marx 64
  • From Lactantius to Liberation Theology 66
  • Freedom in the History of Human Dignity 69
  • Physical, Psychological, and Cultural Diversity 71
  • Freedom and Chosen Slavery 71
  • Augustine’s Descendance Principle 74
  • God’s Friend 79
  • The Brief Authority of Man’s Glassy Essence 80
  • Immanuel Kant 81
  • Enlightenment and Modernity 83
  • Human Dignity as a Phenomenology of Humanness and Solidarity 84
  • Suffering and Human Dignity 88
  • The History of Human Dignity: A Synthetic Summary 89
  • Challenges to the Future of Human Dignity 91
  • 3 Reconstructing Human Dignity as a Moral Value 93
  • Introduction 93
  • Blessed Coincidences 98
  • Culture, Codes of Honor, and Human Dignity 100
  • Reverse Engineering of Human Dignity 104
  • Ten Uses of Human Dignity 117
  • Embeddedness in Reality and the “Moral Point of View”
  • 122
  • Freedom and Human Dignity: Five Meanings 127
  • Vulnerability 140
  • Enforcement 144
  • 4 Human Rights or Natural Moral Rights 149
  • An Outline of a Definition 149
  • Penology and Rights 162
  • Metaethics and Rights 165
  • Claim Rights Take Shape in Deliberative Democracies 170
  • Human Rights as Recipient-Centered Norms for Agents 174
  • Contracts and Promises 175
  • The Will and the Interests 177
  • Hybridization of Interests and Will in Human Rights 180
  • Transcendental Choices 183
  • The Implicit Maxims of Self-Alienation 189
  • The Right to Property 196
  • The Right to Privacy 203
  • 5 Moral Status 207
  • Introduction 207
  • Shifting Harm or Diversion Dilemmas 209
  • The Conditions for Inviolability and Human Rights 219
  • Speciesism and the Argument from Marginal Cases 238
  • On the Moral Status of Unborn Humans 240
  • Dominion, Sexuality, Intimacy, and Care 254
  • 6 Responsibility beyond Human Rights 261
  • Responsibility and Dignity 262
  • Human Dignity within Responsibilities of Intimacy 269
  • Responsibility for the Ethos of Human Dignity and the Conditions of Rights 278
  • 7 A Synthetic Summary 295
  • Summary of the Key Philosophical Arguments 295
  • Existence, Identity, and Moral Status 300
  • Epilogue 302
  • References 303
  • Index 335


“This wonderful book provides a comprehensive, well-written, and well-argued reading of the relationship between human dignity and human rights. This kind of deep historical analysis and systematic argument is paramount to understanding the present philosophical discussions of the foundations of human rights, law, and bioethics.”
Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Roskilde University, Denmark
“In recent years the concept of human dignity has been accorded diminished respect as fundamentally useless for normative moral theory as well as practical application, especially in the field of bioethics. Likewise, the notion of basic human rights has been regarded as being too controversial to be useful in addressing most practical moral problems. Barilan offers a novel, fundamental reconstruction of both these notions that, arguably, restores their respectability and utility for addressing a broad range of bioethical issues. This is an ambitious and provocative book worth a careful reading.”
Len Fleck, Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, Michigan State University
“In exploring crucial questions that are at the very heart of various moral problems of our time, Yechiel Michael Barilan demonstrates a deep and wide-ranging familiarity with the history of ideas, with classic philosophical and theological discussions, and with medical concepts. It is rare to find this combined expertise in one person. This broad and multifaceted approach makes this volume particularly original when compared to the existing literature on the notion of human dignity.”
Roberto Andorno, University of Zurich