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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Morality, Personal and Social

I have been discussing dignity in personal terms, as what defines a person as such, and so with reference to self-awareness, self-worth, and self-respect. Yet, morality has an intrinsically social dimension. This might seem to create a tension in our understanding, though I don't think that should be the case.

Rationality and personhood are normative concepts--they require communities. Dignity therefore cannot be defined from the inside, such that each person's dignity were a wholly subjective matter. Rather, personhood is defined through social interaction, through rational processes of negotiating differences. There could be no concept of person without the process of rational negotiation. So, when we have dignity--when we respect and value ourselves--we are understanding and defining ourselves through others. When we condemn or praise others with our own moral judgments, we are saying something about what it means to be a person. We are setting a standard for ourselves and all others.

Thus, we might say that to foster dignity is to promote, negotiate, and follow principles which guide rational negotiation.

I should add that I am using the term "negotiation" very widely, to cover all types of inter-personal influence, including formal and informal conflict and dispute resolution and both physical and psychological manipulation.