Constructing Human Dignity: An Investment Concept
Bedford, Daniel Jonathan William
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
This is to allow sufficient time to publish the findings of his work, either as a monograph or a series of articles. The embargo was requested and authorised when the thesis was submitted.
This thesis explores the meaning of human dignity in law and its potential value as a legal concept. It claims that existing methods of analysis are predominantly caught up with seeking a fixed and conventional meaning, which has proven difficult and has invariably led to claims that the concept is vague or vacuous. In this light, the thesis proposes a fresh method of conceptual analysis that progresses the current debate on the meaning of the concept in a more fruitful and productive direction. It seeks to shift the focus of analysis away from the formal search for a clear concept that is simply there to be applied or repeated, in favour of constructing the concept to respond to the shifting problems that emerge in life, as well as unlocking new pathways to promote more dynamic, rich, active and joyful modes of living. In this respect, it is argued that a concept of dignity should be assessed not by how well it reflects the past, but how it can be constructed to produce change that unlocks new potentialities and creative tendencies in the present. In deploying this methodology, the author seeks to construct a theoretically informed concept of human dignity that progresses beyond the limited focus on dignity as autonomy to encompass a more holistic, dynamic and interdependent view of human personality. The author explores a notion of dignity that he terms an ‘investment concept’. On this account, the value of human life is situated in its creative potential that is inherent, which requires investment from the community and the individual in order to be nurtured. It depends on a relational view of humanity that sees the creative potentiality of an individual as always unfolding in relation to others in the community. This potential is promoted through increasing the power of acting and rest for both the body and mind that is joyful rather than sad. This establishes a multifaceted view of humanity that moves beyond the mainstream separation of mind-body, independence-dependence, emotion-reason, in favour of a more joined up and connected perspective on humanity that recognises that humans are vulnerable beings whose development depends upon the relationships and connections of which they are always a part. The thesis explores the implication of this construction for the law in England and Wales, considering how the concept can be connected to existing legal pathways, as well as extending or unlocking new legal paths to create a better future for the most vulnerable. The process of connecting the concept to the existing legal framework is also treated as an important foundation for refining and enriching the concept by drawing on the complexity of human experience. In this sense, connecting human dignity to law is treated as a basis for reflecting on the way in which dignity can be refined, adapted or modified to address the concrete problems or experiences faced in life. The final part of the thesis explores the potential transformative implications of investment dignity for concepts that have been connected to human dignity, such as the rule of law and democracy, which affect the relationship between the individual and the community.
PhD in Law