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6 Iustum Aequum Salutare 45 (2010)
Human Dignity and Human Capabilities in Martha C. Nussbaum

handle is hein.journals/iaesal6 and id is 749 raw text is: Justum Aequum Salutare
VI. 2010/4. • 45-51.
Russell Berrie Fellow Philosophy Department
Pontifical University Angelicum
Human dignity is an idea much cherished today in the public debate.' According to
majority's opinion, it constitutes a common value upon which laws, in a pluralistic society,
may be grounded. As a matter of fact, almost all modem Human Rights Charters2 and
national Constitutions3 do make explicit reference to this idea. Nonetheless, there is no
single way of defining its content, nor there is any agreement regarding its beholder
or its effective applicability.
In the present paper, I will critically examine the notion of human dignity espoused
by Martha C. Nussbaum. Her theory of justice does in fact give a prominent place to
the notion, just like international and constitutional law.4
In particular, our philosopher strives to offer an Aristotelian (classical) and Marxist
(modem) conception of human dignity. An effort which - in its intent to blend Marx
with Aristotle - has not failed to raise a few eye-brows.5
1 In the US., The President's Council on Bioethics has recently commissioned a series of essays on the
subject of Human Dignity and Bioethics. Furthermore, in the European context, it is worth mentioning
the recent contributions on the subject by ERNEST-WOLFGANG BOCKENFORD: Menschenwfirde als
normatives Prinzip. Die Grundrechte in der bioethischen Debatte in Juristen Zeitung, 17, 2003.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, for instance, dedicates the whole,
introductory chapter to the notion of human dignity. The same notion appears in the title of the 1997
European Council Convention on biomedicine.
3 A list of the most important juridical documents conveying the idea of human dignity may be found in
J. KNox-M. BROBERG (eds): Dignity, Ethics and Law, Copenhagen: Centre for Ethics and Law, 1999.
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: Human Dignity and Political Entitlements in Human Dignity and Bioethics,
Washington D.C.: The President's Council on Bioethics, March 2008. 351; NUSSBAUM (2006).
Diana Schaub, for instance, writes that Nussbaum (...) treats the works of the philosophers as brightly
colored scraps to be stitched together in a policy quilt of her own liking. DIANA SCHAUB: Commentary
on Nussbaum, Shell and Kass in Human Dignity and Bioethics. Uo.

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