In this period of social reconstruction, after the long period of wars and central totalitarian rule, many very basic issues reemerge regarding the foundations of social life. The new countries of Central Asia have never before been independent and national identities must be created from ancient cultural roots. In Central Europe cultural identities were intensively discussed earlier in this century, but their post Versailles experience as democratic nations was relatively brief before being interrupted by World War II and its aftermath. Hence, today rich discoveries regarding nation building and national reconstruction become newly possible. What is remarkably evident as this work proceeds is that not only is human dignity being reaffirmed, but dramatic new dimensions of human life are now opening after the cold war. These promise to not only to reaffirm the fact of a minimal and inviolable human dignity, but richly to enhance it.

Prof. Miroslav BednáÍ has brought together an outstanding team of authors to continue the project of Czech philosophers on this theme. The first round of volumes of "Czech Philosophical Studies" concentrated on retrieving the tradition: Volume I, Tradition and Present Problem of Czech Political Philosophy, and volume II, Czech Philosophy in the XXth Century. An additional part of this picture is to be found also in volume I of "Slovak Philosophical Studies," Volume I, Language, Values and the Slovak Nation.

For their second round of volumes the Central European teams have chosen as their general theme: "Building Democratic Societies: Values and Rights". To begin this project it was thought wisely to be necessary to lay as a firm foundation the reality of human dignity. Without this being clear any steps in building democratic societies could be inadequate or even destructive. The present volume, Human Dignity: Values and Justice, Czech Philosophical Studies, III, from Prague bears the results of this study. Other volumes are under development and two recently have been published: National, Cultural and Ethnic Identities: Harmony beyond Conflict, Czech Philosophical Studies, IV from Brno and Interests and Values: The Spirit of Venture in a Time of Change, Slovak Philosophical Studies, II from Bratislava.

The work of the present volume, Human Dignity: Values and Justice, is divided into four parts: "Human Dignity"; "Dialogue: Interchange as Human Transcendence"; "The Ecology as a Broader Human Context"; and The Human Person.


Part I "Human Dignity" lays the foundations for this study.

M. BednáÍ in Chapter I "The Phenomenon of Human Dignity after Totalitarianism" begins the work auspiciously on the basis of the thought of Jan Patoka, the key theoretician of the modern Czech philosophical experience. Rather than trying to make room for the human in the midst of impervious alien givens, with Patoka BednáÍ focuses on the very appearing of reality. This makes it possible not only to protect human dignity, but to identify the key role of the human in the internal constitution of the world as the creative source of values, in contrast to a mere external technical ordering of goods or external measurements of equality.

Jolana Poláková in chapter II "Struggling for Human Dignity in Extreme Situations" draws upon the special experience of the people of Central Europe investigating how the great trials and tabulations of this century have made possible new discoveries regarding human dignity. She shows how external situations which threaten to crush and dissolve the person internally can be the basis for transcending the situation and gaining an authentic and indissoluble freedom.

Jan Payne in chapter III "Human Dignity" also develops this theme distinguishing from the interpretation of reality in terms of force expressing power, the experience of freedom in terms of value judgements. As both are integral parts of human life he turns to the hermeneutic circle as the manner of interrelating the two in a way that retains and promotes human dignity.


Part II "Dialogue: Interchange as Human Transcendence" begins to expand the horizons of human dignity by introducing its dialogical dimensions. As processes of transcending the self-enclosed ego, Jolana Poláková in chapter IV, "Dialogue as a Way to Humanity", begins this process by pointing out the poverty of prior attempts to affirm human dignity. Enlightenment rationalism had reduced the sense of the person to the atomistic individual, whose isolation could be overcome only by universal concepts incapable of expressing the individual person because abstracting from one’s uniqueness and freedom. The sense of dialogue is now breaking definitively beyond these restrictions. Instead of a solipsistic atomism of the first or third person, the relations expressed by the second person now come into the fore. This is not only a matter of communicative interchange; more deeply it is a teleological openness to God and an anthropological openness to other humans. In this light we are now moving beyond seeing the I as the center of the universe to seeing it as a gift of my creator to you. This constitutes a broad enrichment of the sense of human dignity and meaning.

V. Hála in chapter V "Ethics and Dialogue: Some Philosophical Contexts" follows the same path of dialogue relating it to the search for an ethnical minimum or unrelativizable ethical core upon which to build human interaction. He contrast in this regard the communitarian effort to contextualize this in particular cultures to a position he tends to favor which would look for a universal basis. Rather than attempting to realize this in merely formal structures, however, he proceeds in two subsequent chapters to look for its concrete bases in the political and environmental orders.

In chapter VI "Morality and Legality: The Political Significance of Their Relationship" Professor Hála attempts to situate the legal order in relation to morality, noting that law can cover only some parts of life, but that it is founded in morality, which, in turn, it can help to define and apply. In his longer discussion of the issue of legitimate protest he is able to draw on the lived experience of the last decades in order to explore this realm of morality as foundation for social life where law is either not sufficient or not just.


Part III "Ecology as a Broader Human Context" constitutes a further major contemporary extension and enrichment of human dignity, its context and its role.

It seems only fitting that this part should be introduced, even if schematically, by the late Josel VavrouŃek in chapter VII "Human Values and Sustainable Ways of Living". Perhaps more than anyone in the Czech Republic he led the way in environmental concern and performed an analogous service in such international organizations as the United Nations. Here he lists in summary, but particularly

insightful, fashion the shifts in philosophical and humane horizons involved in the new emergence of ecological awareness. These themes are richly elaborated in the following two chapters.

Oleg Suša in chapter VIII "The Ecological Problem in Modern Society: Solidarity, Conflict and Human Dignity" provides a uniquely rich overview of the development of the environmental consciousness. His study deals with the problems of the growth of ecological risk in modern society and its social and moral consequences in the form of solidarity and conflict in the communication of two competing viewpoints: technical and ethical, institutional and value-based. Philosophical reflection faces the task of investigating the interaction of society with nature as well as the ecological problems resulting from power-based, technical, economic and science-based cultural processes.

In the first part of the study the author analyses certain significant cultural-historical relationships of the double conception of environment on the basis of the socially created contrast between culture and nature. The first points above all to the problematic character of the modern conception of the interaction of human society with the natural environment as regulated by power-based technological-economic structures, the second to the need for ecological ethics in modern industrial society.

Suša follows with an analysis of a deeper socio-cultural relationships of the modern power-based pattern of a morally neutralized relation to the natural environment. Here the aim is to show the ambivalence of the rationalization of nature and society and its cumulative unintended consequences. These include both a civilizing process of modernization and rationalization, and a mechanistic conception of nature, society and man. This implies the need, possibilities and problems of developing an alternative normative-ethical "social control" of the interaction of society and nature in order to surpass the present power-based metaphor of this interaction. This would unify the double environment within the framework of a co-evolutionarily expanded conception of membership in the ecosystems.

The second part of this chapter focuses on the investigation of the phenomenon of environmentalism as an ideological and social movement in the context of today’s modern ecological discourse.

This evokes pressures both to solidarity and to conflict in the discussion and solution of problems arising from the confrontation of plural interests, needs and values of society as well as the state and the quality of the natural environment. There was note of the way discourse on the fear of ecological risks acts upon the solidarization and conflict to reproduce the tension between values and institutions, legality and legitimacy. The growing topical significance of ecological problems in the social, political and cultural context appears as an argument for deeper and more intensive related analytical research.

The reintroduction of moral values and valuation into our understanding of the world, and also ethical checks of self-control upon our whole cultural relationship with nature, become not only a political necessity, but also a matter of human dignity and of the good life in a good society.

The problem with an environmentally responsible ethics arises in terms of how to implement this practical reason within the context of the structures and systems of modern instrumental reason, i.e., the structures of instrumentalized action. The search for alternative moral conduct should build on the European cultural heritage: for instance, upon the Aristotelian unity of human, technical, scientific and aesthetic faculties and virtues, connecting them with moral political conduct. There is also the biblical tradition of the human dominion metaphor. This contains both the power and domination paradigm, on the one hand, and morally responsible and cognitive respect for the whole of creation as a community created by God, on the other. In both conceptual frameworks much is to be learned: cognitive respect means mutual understanding within this community as a presupposition for adequate public policy, which thus becomes the moral direction of power in the controlling structures of human action.

Beyond presenting simply a pragmatic response to a practical challenge, Professor SuŃa shows how this is even more a deep transformation of modern human self-awareness. Human dignity, consciousness and responsibility are no longer issues for an isolated and fearful entity, but rather essential characteristics for one who would engage the global horizon. The human home is no longer a hut or even a castle, but rather the globe with not only physical but cultural dimensions. This chapter points out how in these times human dignity and hence responsibility have been vastly enriched.

In Chapter IX "The Ecological Motivation of Ethics and the moral Critique of Society" Vlastimil Hála returns to this task. In the first part of this chapter he focuses on a number of theoretical problems in ecology, especially the relationship between anthropocentrism and biocentrism and the possibility of going beyond the intersubjective concept of moral judgment and extending it to non-human beings, particularly to animals. In this context the author supports the position of "cultivated anthropocentrism" and an extended concept of humanity.

In the second part he reflects on the practical application of ecologically motivated ethics, and especially on the significance of the concept of long-term sustainable life. He is convinced that a change in value orientations is possible, not so much in the form of a society-wide process, as in the form of struggling and gaining space for the development of "minority" styles of life that are favorable from an ecological point of view.

He recognizes the Judeo-Christian religious basis, but does not see this as sufficiently inclusive. This may be due to the fact that after the manner of a science he is looking for a deductive principle from which the conclusions follow of necessity, or for a world view which is centered upon human freedom that is responsible for all of creation. That, however, would not seem appropriate for religion as a free response to the divine gift of love, for this an inductive and aesthetic approach would seem indicated proceeding from the experience of life to its transcendent principles, which inspire and fulfill as much as explain.

Chapters VIII and IX jointly would seem to illustrate well the present philosophical challenge and opportunity for human dignity. In the modern external technological paradigm an anthropocentric view would mean violence to, and exploration of, nature. The solution would be merely to expand the horizons to an abstractive biocentric view, which, however, as abstraction would lose the freedom and creativity of humankind and hence the special role of reason in nature. The solution would seem to lie in a new transcendence, first of reason and its manipulations in order to include will, values and goals; second of human and physical nature as vicious competitors on a limited field in order to treat them as joint heirs and participants in a project grounded in an infinite and loving source and goal.


Part IV "The Human Person" proceeds to examine human dignity on a basis that is much enriched by the horizons of dialogue with other persons and interchange with the natural environment which were developed in Parts II and III. Here the focus turns to the dignity of the human person.

Bohumír Janát in Chapters X "A Time of Titans: Reflections on the Philosophy of Present History" and XI "Philosophy and the Metaphysical Vision of a Just World: Reflections on Justice in the Present Spiritual Atmosphere of Middle-Eastern Europe" draws out these foundational implications regarding the horizon needed to resolve positively the alternative contexts for approaches to ecological issues. For this he points to the new openness to the spirit entailed by the collapse of militant materialism.

This study is an attempt to formulate a philosophical response to the present "materialistic liberalism" notable in the postcomminust countries of present Middle-Eastern Europe. In accord with the old Marxist supposition, they tend to declare economy the most significant stratum of human and social being and thus to diminish the importance of spirituality, dignity, morality and justice. The author tries to open a deeper historical-philosophical perspective on the contemporary situation. His endeavor is to provide evidence for the preference of metaphysics over political philosophy or for the grounding of the latter in the former. The key idea is that the spiritual substance of Euro-American civilization can be saved only if the philosophical archetype embodied in Socrates wins over the nihilistic, violent and orgiastic pathos figured in Nietzsche, i.e., if "epimeleia tés psyches" prevails over "der Wille zur Macht".

Aviezer Tucker in chapter XI " Patoka’s Ethnical Naturalism: the Primacy of Value over Fact" shows how central was Jan Patoka’s focus upon care of the soul to a philosophy truly attentive to human dignity. In this he sees special continuity with the work of society. Echoing a theme from chapter I he notes also the uniqueness of Patoka’s work vis ŕ vis Heidegger. Where M. BednáÍ pointed to the deepening of Patoka’s horizon beyond being to appearing, Tucker notes its displacement from being to value, thereby giving it the strong developmental, teleological and ethical character needed in order for it to provide the reflective dimension especially needed in our time of social reconstruction.

Vincent Shen in chapter XII "`Person’ as the Central Concept in the Human and Social Sciences: An Interpretation of Edmund Husserl’s Thought on the Human Person in Ideen II" begins from Dilthey and his identification of the essential difference of the human from the technical sciences. In this light it becomes possible to see the importance of the phenomenology of Husserl, especially in Ideen II, in making it possible to explore the properly human consciousness from within in the work of self-constitution.

In the latter part of the chapter Professor Shen points to the work of Thomas Aquinas in ontically relating this dimension of the spirit to the body in an integrated sense of the human person, but Professor Shen considers this no longer adequate for the technological complexities of contemporary society investigated by J. Habermas. In view of the earlier direction of the chapter as well as the general pattern of development in the rest of the work, this might also be read conversely to point out how the formal character of Habermas’s analysis stands in need of the phenomenological elaboration of the life of human consciousness by Husserl, and that this in turn needs an integration of the human person in the sense of the existential philosophy of being of Thomas. (See Robert Badillo, The Emancipative Theory of Jügen Habermas and Metaphysics [Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change, Series I, Culture and Values, vol. 13; Washington: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1991].)

This again would be an inversion of the method of philosophical reflection to look not deductively from abstract principles, but inductively from the dignity of human life lived in existential freedom to the unlimited source and goal of such life beyond the human person. This is needed in order to provide the openness within which freedom, rather than determinism, is the mark of being and the context of the dignity of the human person.

Karel Vrána in chapter XIV "The Writer’s Mission and Politics" elaborates this existential theme richly in relation to literature and the work of the writer. For this the writer must overcome a series of temptations in order to be guided by truth precisely as the way of access to being and existence. The alternative is to be reduced to an instrument of profit through advertising or of power through ideologies.


In sum this volume is truly a tour de force. It could have been simply a minimal assertion of irreducible human dignity in the face of modern oppression, or a search for foundations in earlier sources. Both would have been worthy accomplishments for this volume. Beyond both of these, however, the volume is both creative and prospective, looking for the elements now appreciated as missing in the modern project of technical progress. Above all, it looks not only at particular insights, but at broad steps in the contemporary evolution of human consciousness in integrating dialogical or inter human action and ecological or human-nature awareness. In both dimension the atomistic individual is liberated and both nature and society are rendered humane. In this light human dignity emerges no longer as a fugitive viciously pursued, but as the creative center, ready to build the life-world of the third millennium.


George F. McLean