Is Human Dignity “Stupid” and “Useless”? Interdisciplinary conference to confront the erosion of the concept of “human dignity”

By Brett Robinson

“The End of Human Dignity?: Recovering the Intellectual Appeal of Human Dignity for the Theological and Philosophical Imagination” is the title of an interdisciplinary conference that will be held at Notre Dame April 3-5, 2016 featuring a range of scholars defending the concept of human dignity against recent philosophical challenges.

Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria, will open the conference by delivering the 2016 Human Dignity Lecture at McKenna Hall on Sunday April 3 at 7:00pm “The End of Human Dignity?” conference will feature noted philosophers and theologians including Cyril O’Regan, Leon Kass, Gustavo Gutiérrez and David Walsh.

Philosopher Ruth Macklin has claimed that the concept of “human dignity” is “useless,” denoting nothing more than respect of individual autonomy. Likewise, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has called human dignity “stupid” because it curbs “the modern conception of freedom.” ”The End of Dignity?” aims to rebuff such claims by considering the positive contribution that a society rooted in the inherent dignity of human persons offers.

“The erosion or outright dismissal of the concept of human dignity raises foundational questions about human persons and the communities we wish to inhabit,” said McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life, John Cavadini. “What would society look like if the language of human dignity were eliminated from public discourse?”

The aim of the conference is to renew the discourse around the concept of human dignity by recovering its philosophical and theological foundations.

“Modern philosophies that fail to adequately deal with vulnerability and suffering obscure a conception of human dignity grounded in human encounter, the other, and the phenomenon of love,” said Cavadini.  

The 2016 Human Dignity Lecture and “The End of Human Dignity?” conference is sponsored by the Institute for Church Life and the Office of Human Dignity and Life Initiatives. The 2016 Human Dignity Lecture featuring Cardinal Onaiyekan opens the conference on Sunday, April 3 at 7:00pm in McKenna Hall. Additional sessions will begin at 8:45am on Monday April 4 and continue until 9:00pm on Tuesday April 5.

Full list of conference speakers:

Sr. Ann Astell | University of Notre Dame

Stephen M. Barr |  University of Delaware; Director of the Barthols Research Center

Paolo Carozza | University of Notre Dame

John Cavadini | University of Notre Dame

Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P. | University of Notre Dame

Leon Kass | Madden-Jewett Chair, American Enterprise Institute; Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago

Gerald McKenney | University of Notre Dame

Gilbert Meilaender | Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Chair in Theological Ethics, Valparaiso University

John O'Callaghan | University of Notre Dame

John Cardinal Onaiyekan | Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria

Cyril O'Regan | University of Notre Dame

Margie Pfeil | University of Notre Dame

Clemens Sedmak | University of Notre Dame

O. Carter Snead | University of Notre Dame

David Solomon | University of Notre Dame

David Walsh | Catholic University of America

Contact: Brett Robinson
Tel. 574-631-6109