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Martha Minow, Dignity and Human Rights: Aspirations and Challenges in an Age of Political Divisions, Distrust, and AI, 2023 telos 21 (2023).


Abstract: The reasons why individual nations and even individual people subscribe to notions of human rights vary enormously. Rationales range from idealism to realpolitik and sound in competing registers of theology, social contract, nature, utility, and game theory.1 Pervasive in discussions of human rights is the dignity of each person as both a reality and a normative guide. Capacious and ambiguous, this notion of dignity may invite agreement precisely because different people project different meanings onto it. Its recognition, though, can inspire attitudes of respect and civility even when we disagree. Dignity thus serves less as a foundation and more as a lodestar, an aspiration. Justice Thurgood Marshall once explained, “A child born to a [B]lack mother in a state like Mississippi… has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.”2