Human dignity and the logic of the gift

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 36, issue 4, 2017 , pages: 516–524
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2017.1362930
Author(s): Jaco KrugerSt. Augustine College of SA, South Africa


This paper seeks to bring together the notions of human dignity and gift exchange in a mutually enriching relation. Two interpretations of the gift and of gift exchange are investigated, and in each case brought to bear on the understanding of human dignity. To start, dignity understood as the gift of uniqueness in relation is considered, followed by a consideration of dignity as the gift of absolute responsibility. The conclusion reached at the end of the paper is that an understanding of human dignity in terms of gift exchange will allow for the irreducibly social aspects inherent in the notion to be appreciated complementary to the more objective, factual and individual elements usually associated with human rights. The paper argues for a plurivocal interpretation of dignity as gift that allows for both the relational and the absolute elements gathered together in this conception to be appreciated.

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