Streams

Human Dignity

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What is human dignity? George Kateb, author of the new book Human Dignity, discusses the meaning of the term and its importance in the struggle for universal human rights.

Listeners: What's your definition of human dignity? Comment here!

Guests:

George Kateb
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [20]

Ed from Larchmont

One odd thing is that the Declaration of Independence, the companion to the Constitution, does say where our rights come from: "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...", a section President Obama skips when he quotes it.

Jan. 05 2011 01:01 PM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

Mr. Lehrer:

Not even up to your usually apparently ill prepared,
unfocused presentations.
I think the Professor needs some seasoning on whatever "farm team" is available.

Jan. 05 2011 12:06 PM
Charles Zigmund from Carmel

Would like to expand on my comment by quoting from the email I just sent to this guest by looking up his info at Princeton:

Dear Professor Kateb,

I just heard your segment on the Brian Lehrer Show. The attitude of elevated human dignity in relation to all other species leads to the terrible abuses of animals we see in so many areas, especially prolonged unmoving confinement in factory farming, unnecessary repetitive unanaesthetized animal testing lab surgery, fur farming in small wire cages exposed to freezing weather, leghold trapping, shipping of pigs for thousands of miles in winter weather with no protection from the elements (the pigs' skin often freezes to the metal slats of the trucks and they need to be pried off with crowbars, leading to massive bleeding), and many other abuses. In my view this attitude of superior human dignity is speciesist and, because of the practical results as mentioned above, abhorrent. I submit that in view of these abuses, and the fact that *many people are aware of them but turn their eyes away rather than work for their amelioration*, human dignity is *notably inferior* to that of other species.

I would welcome your comments on this.

Charles Zigmund
czigmund@gmx.com

Jan. 05 2011 11:34 AM
Louis from NYC

Certainly, the human species is somewhat special, but the reasons G. Kateb's gives for it are astonishingly uninformed, and wrong onseveral levels.
According to him, what makes humans special is the use of language, which allows humans to think and to transmit knowledge.
In fact, many animal species have cultures, techniques that a particular group of animals has developed, and which is not known (but can be easily acquired) by other groups from the same species. It's a very hot topic of research in ethology. It had been observed with apes and monkeys, dolphins, orcas, and a host of other species. Many of these social species have some form of language (not all of which involve making noise).
Lastly, it is completely wrong to say that language is necessary for what we call thought. Much of our cortex is used for "thought", but only a tiny-teeny portion is used for language. The highly elaborate thinking that has driven the big scientific advances of our times (think of Einstein) was largely the result of "right-hemisphere" thinking, which is entirely non-verbal: it consists in using your mind as a simulation engine, or a geometry machine. This has more to do with imagery than language. This intuitive reasoning is the complicated part of mathematics, physics, and many other areas of science. The process of turning these intuitions into proofs and formulas, which is more of a left-hemisphere process, is rather trivial by comparison.

Jan. 05 2011 11:19 AM
moshe from upper west side

left this kind of a comment in the past: i love Brian's program BUT i dislike the name 'show' and the overly segmentation. point in case: the most interesting discussion about dignity had to be stopped when it just started to go into some depth. Brian, please consider this changes. aren't you adding the short span of concentration and avoidance of a more lengthy and thorough discussion? true; this topics cannot be completed in a program; but they and the listeners deserve a more.
thank you

Jan. 05 2011 11:11 AM
Roman from Greenpoint

This is a fascinating subject. Unfortunately, the poorly structured interview and terrible sound quality served to diminish its listen-ability.
Let's bring George back for a more in-depth discussion on the subject.
Also, Can we please get this book on Kindle already? Who's got space or cash for hardcover anymore. This segment at least made me really want to read further.

Jan. 05 2011 11:08 AM
Bob from Palham, NY

My labor law professor at Harvard (later to be an aborted Supreme Court nominee) spent endless class hours trying to convince us that labor law was only the clash of various economic interests. My wife's labor law professor at Fordham, Joe Crowley, defined it in two words in her first class: "Human Dignity". I still believe Professor Crowley got it right.

Jan. 05 2011 11:05 AM

BLShow -- please bring this guest back for a longer segment. Maybe on MLK day. Segment ended just as he was making his point. Perhaps a good discussion of human dignity will help us see our way into the future -- especially immigration reform and even saving the middle class.

Jan. 05 2011 11:05 AM
Tony from Brooklyn

What a painfully inarticulate man. I would expect a Princeton professor to know how to speak better.

Jan. 05 2011 11:03 AM
Ruth from Manhattan

Hmm..."Special in nature..."
Please include human humility in your argument for human dignity. Part of our assumption of superiority of the human species has gotten us to many of the environmental problems we face today. How can we advocate for human rights without including the vast ecological network that our species exists within?

Jan. 05 2011 11:03 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

The UN does not represent the people of the world.
I don't think any people elected any official in the UN.
The UN is government of the governments, by the governments, for the governments- -
regardless of how unrepresentative those governments are of their people.

Jan. 05 2011 11:02 AM
this is tedious from Rye

With all that's happening today, I turned on my radio at home to hear what you had to say.
This is killing me.
Couldn't you have an alternate channel for boring for those who have nothing better to do?

Jan. 05 2011 11:02 AM
eligit from astoria

There is no contradiction between saying that we are animals...and that we have such powerful brains that we have been the one species to truly re-invent ITSELF and (for better or worse) reshape the entire planet. no supernatural explanation needed.

Jan. 05 2011 11:00 AM
Charles from Carmel, NY

The attitude of elevated human dignity in relation to all other species leads to the terrible abuses of animals we see in so many areas, especially factory farming, is speciesist and is abhorrent. I submit that in view of these abuses, human dignity is INFERIOR to that of other species.

Jan. 05 2011 11:00 AM
Susan from NYC from nyc

Being a human being is the most important thing that anyone can be. It is the only thing we have in common with everyone else in this world. If we do anything to hurt or harm any one else we diminish our own humanity and dignity.

Jan. 05 2011 10:58 AM
Jaimee from Brooklyn

This is like listening to paint dry. Interesting topic, horrible interview.

Jan. 05 2011 10:57 AM
Sarah from Williamsburg

Being humans, we cannot reliably judge the superiority of humans over other species in this absurd arena of "dignity". Of course we think we're The Bomb. I doubt many of our fellow earthdwelling species would agree.

Jan. 05 2011 10:54 AM
Lyndsay Becker from Greenpont, BK

Mr kateb is a Unitarian Universalist, isn't he? Sounds much like my UU church school up bringing!

Jan. 05 2011 10:52 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

As people grow older, wisdom usual rises but personal dignity usually goes down.

And what is meant by "dignity" anyway? Respect? Self-respect, or the respect obtained from others?
Everyone wants respect, but obtaining it is usually easier said than done.

Jan. 05 2011 10:51 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Human dignity comes from being a member of this species, from conception to natural death, and rights adhere at each moment.

Jan. 05 2011 08:13 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.