BY Martin Dunlop | June 26 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Archbishop Nichols prioritises human dignity

The president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has called for a more developed and shared understanding of human dignity for the good of all of society

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster made the call at an address to the Thomas More Society at Lincoln’s Inn on Monday evening, during which he explored the problem in reaching an agreed definition at a time when the precise meaning of human dignity is increasingly being questioned, particularly now in ethics and law.

The archbishop said this was no mere academic debate.

“It matters very much because the notion of human dignity plays a key role especially in international conventions, and in our understanding of the moral life,” Archbishop Nichols said. “How in our pluralist society we develop and hold onto a shared understanding of such a key concept can have an immense influence on the quality of moral and social development of people.”

The talk explored the problem in reaching a common understanding of human dignity and how the Church’s understanding of what human dignity is might help society to think it through.

“I will propose that human dignity means, in Michael Rosen’s striking phrase, the inner kernel of transcendental value or worth that persons have simply because they are human and irrespective of whether they or others consider themselves to be thus valued,” Archbishop Nichols said.

The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales concluded his address with an appeal to dialogue.

“The protestors in the Arab spring uprisings last year seized on the idea of human dignity precisely because it offered a promise of a new future,” he said. “Indeed it does. As Christians, we believe that the idea of human dignity—as all truth must—also carries with it the latent power and potential of the Gospel,” the archbishop said.
“Through dialogue and engagement with others, as Christians it is our role both to bring the light of that truth to a world in need of healing and hope, and also to seek with and through the insights of others a deeper understanding of where that truth may yet be leading us.”

To contribute to this dialogue, the archbishop also hoped that the high-level inter-disciplinary academic conference in Oxford this week, on the theme of ‘understanding human dignity,’ which is jointly sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, together with Oxford University, the British Academy, Queens University Belfast and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome, would advance precisely this shared understanding especially among the judges, legal academics, philosophers and theologians taking part.

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