Human dignity before Kant: Denis Diderot’s passionate person


Most modern discussions of human dignity give historical pride of place to Immanuel Kant and his idea that dignity is grounded in human rational agency or autonomy. This chapter challenges this practice by articulating a "second story" about dignity-a story that also unfolded during the Enlightenment, but which grounded dignity in human passionate agency. Thus it is suggested that a range of thinkers, including Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Smith's French translator, Sophie De Grouchey, all seemed to have inclined in this new direction. However, above all others, this chapter lauds Denis Diderot's contribution to this second story of human dignity. Correspondingly, the essay culminates in an examination of Diderot's wide-ranging inquiries into human nature, politics, and social theory.

Publication Title

Dignity: A History