You brought up some excellent points in regards to the two types of human dignity in your last post Graham. I think that this is a very important distinction to make. I admit that as I’ve been thinking through the human enhancement, it has been the first definition that I’ve utilized (as you picked up on my last post). Just to clarify the first definition of human dignity relates to our intrinsic value as human individuals and then the second definition of human dignity (as Graham pointed out) relates to our behavior as human individuals. We use this second definition when we say that someone’s actions (running around naked or throwing feces at people) don’t measure up to some kind of social standard.
I think we can agree that the second definition of human dignity in regards to behavior isn’t what gives us intrinsic value. Going back to your lunatic running the streets naked. The fact that he acts in a socially deviant way doesn’t negate the fact that he has intrinsic value. This is why you as an individual can’t just shoot him or enslave him for his behavior. Although his actions may be undignified as a human being, there is still something about him which must be respected. He may need to be punished for his criminal behavior, but as Kant points out to punish someone for a crime IS to treat them as an end and not a means. It recognizes their individual responsibility as human.
You wonder why people like Kass seem to think that our human dignity can be so easily lost. I think a clarification here may be helpful. Kass’s whole point is that human dignity can’t be lost! It is impossible to extract from an individual there intrinsic worth as a person. It is actually those who think an individual’s worth comes from their biology or external social views that need to answer why human dignity can be taken away from someone.
What Kass is saying is that while, a person’s human dignity can never be taken from them, we can treat others as if they didn’t have that intrinsic worth. That is the danger of post humanism, not that is will somehow remove the “dignity gene” but that it isn’t treating the individual with the respect due them as a person with intrinsic human dignity. By analogy, enslaving a group of people doesn’t actually remove their dignity as persons but in a horrifying way treats them as if they weren’t intrinsically valuable individuals.
I can relate to your frustration when Kass never clearly defines human dignity. That is one of the weaknesses of his argument I admit. But, let’s look at both sides. The post-human proponents say that if Kass can’t give a clear definition for human dignity then he shouldn’t denounce them as harming this unidentified thing. On the same note though, if the proponents can’t give an adequate definition for human dignity how can they say that Kass’s policies oppose it? It’s pretty clear I believe that the proponents haven’t provided a clear and defensible definition for human dignity and how post humanism won’t harm it.
One last question, I haven’t taken phil bio but the notion of essentialism seems interesting. If essentialism holds that a species has a distinct set of properties that define it as a species, are these properties physical or immaterial? Is essentialism referring to scientifically, statistically determined characteristics like Fukuyama’s Factor X or does it refer to a philosophical, classical definition of essences? (You’ll have to excuse my ignorance).