n Missionalia : Southern African Journal of Mission Studies - On the secularisation of the image of God : the resurgence of the human dignity debate in contemporary bioethics discourse

Volume 40, Issue 1_2
  • ISSN : 0256-9507



Recourse to the concept of human dignity in contemporary bioethics most notable for its pragmatic ambiguity, particularly as an argument stopper. Indeed, lack of conceptual clarity has characteristically inflamed both sides of the debate as to whether the notion of human dignity has any relevance in today's principlism-dominated bioethics. In fact, arguments about human dignity are usually emotive gut feelings and lacking in rational conceptual analysis (Hailer and Ritschl 1996:94). Remarkably, the debate on human dignity traverses cultures and many other arenas of contemporary moral discourse, besides Western bioethics. What emerges from this diverse discourse on human dignity is that there is a critical need for conceptual clarity of the notion of human dignity itself that can transcend contemporary moral relativism (Pellegrino 2008a:xii).

In this article, therefore, I focus on the conceptual clarity of the notionof human dignity in contemporary bioethics discourse, and examine the resurgence of the debate as to its relevance today. I will particularly explore the implications of the modern philosophical secularisation of human dignity and re-appraise the, arguably, inextricably religious roots of the concept. So, let us first examine the modern philosophical conceptualisation of the notion of human dignity.

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