Abstract

The concept of dignity has become associated in contemporary philosophy with the thesis that all human beings have equal intrinsic worth, just because we human. Christian philosophers often add that humans have equal dignity because we are all created in the image of God. Some even present the equal dignity thesis as a legacy of the Christian tradition.

In this paper I begin by explaining why there was, in fact, little Christian support for the equal dignity thesis all the way from the patristic era to the end of the Middle Ages. Next I discuss a thesis that drew far more attention: the equal dignity of all rational creatures. Thomas Aquinas diverged from Augustine in arguing that angels exceed humans in both their cognitive capacities and freedom of choice. Because their rational powers are superior to ours, angels have more dignity in the order of nature than we do. I will argue that Peter Olivi not only opposed Aquinas’s account of angelic cognition and freedom of choice, he ended up turning the Thomistic line of argument upside down. Citing Christ’s promise that his followers will be equal to the angels in heaven, Olivi claimed that humans and angels must have the same kind of rational powers. At the end I turn briefly to the work of Duns Scotus, who invokes the same scriptural passages for much the same purposes — to argue that the rational powers of human beings are, by nature, no more limited than angelic powers.


Research Interests: Ethics, Moral Psychology, Action Theory, Medieval Philosophy and Theology

Source: https://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=4886