In the latest issue of Dappled Things , Robert T. Miller argues that Catholic moral theology should abandon the concept of human dignity as the basis for morality in favor of a virtue-theoretic one based on the final end for man.

I may be missing some subtle theological nuances, but it appears to me that Miller is offering a false dilemma. I don’t see why morality could not be both rooted in human dignity and be eschatologically oriented. While the final end of an acorn may be to grow into a oak tree, the intrinsic worth of the flora is dependent on its value to the Gardener.

I’ve also never heard a Christian claim that the dignity of the human person as a foundational concept in morality was derived from the eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. I had always thought we got the concept from Genesis 1:27 . Because we are created in God’s image we have inherent value independent of our utility or function. But it also implies that we were created for a final end— to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever .

Of course, I’m a Calvinist and and Miller is writing about Catholic moral theology so I’ll leave it to others to judge the merits of his claims (perhaps David Mills or R.R. Reno can be enticed to weigh in on the issue). For now I’ll leave you with this provocative paragraph from Miller’s brief, thought-provoking article:


These two concepts—the dignity of the human person and the final end for man—ground two different moral systems, a deontological one based on dignity and a virtue-theoretic one based on the final end for man. While the two systems often agree on what ought be done or not done in particular cases, they differ sharply on the meaning of moral terms and thus on the nature of morality itself. Any attempt to integrate the two is hopeless from a philosophical point of view: Kant expressly formulated his concept of human dignity as part of an express rejection of the concept of beatitude or a final end for man as a foundational concept in morals. Attempting to reconcile the two systems would be like attempting to reconcile Stalinism with liberal democracy: the two are fundamentally opposed, and a person has to decide which he thinks is right.

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Articles by Joe Carter

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