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This collection of essays was the result of a symposium, “Riddle Human Being: Human Dignity according to Nietzsche,” organized by the Nietzsche-Forum in Munich in September, 2012. Most of the essays were presented at this symposium. In the introductory chapter of this book, the title of which can be translated as Transvaluation of Human Dignity – Controversies with and after Nietzsche (‘after’ and/or ‘according to’), Vogel gives a comprehensive overview of Nietzsche’s reception in Germany shortly after his death. In this period Nietzsche’s ideas resonated especially with artists of all types, as they saw a new beginning in Nietzsche (18). Nietzsche and Wagner were brought together under the same artistic inspiration for such a new beginning. However, this new beginning was shattered by two world wars and the traumas they created. As Vogel highlights the sensitivity of the issue and the renewed discussion of the overhuman, she frames the question anew as to how one can conceive of the place of human being in the universe as between the animal-human and the overhuman (23). This conception assumes a new species of human being and, as Sorgner argues in his book Human Dignity After Nietzsche, demands a new discussion of human dignity. It was this monograph by Sorgner and the challenges concerning the concept of human dignity as highlighted there, which represent the intellectual background of the above mentioned conference as well as of this essay collection (26). Vogel had realized that the criticisms Sorgner puts forward are the ones which urgently need to be discussed in Germany by a wider public and which Vogel deals with extensively in her more than 100 pages long introduction (37-57). What follows below is a brief review of each of the eleven essays of the anthology gathered in three parts.
Part I, “Aspects of Constitutional Law,” has two chapters. In the first chapter, “Does Human Dignity Remain Untouchable?,” Böckenförde discusses the legal aspects of human dignity in the post-war German constitution, especially in the light of recent advances in medical technology and genetics. After exploring several positions in the legal debate, some of which revolve around the status of the embryo, Böckenförde concludes that the concept of human dignity is an open concept, which is not fixed in its concrete applications (140); the concept has its philosophical underpinnings and functionality must not be confused with principles. He then asks what the guarantee of human dignity will turn out to be, if it does not reflect the needs and ideas of the times and to what extent this guarantee is owed to a near-born or an unborn human-being. Here the question turns around the advances made in human genetics, bio-technology, and reproductive sciences (141). In the second chapter of this part, “Erosion of Human Dignity,” Triedhelm Hufen highlights some of the core issues regarding political and legal aspects of human dignity, as he responds to Böckenförde. He poses the question as to whether the state should not only pay heed to human dignity but also protect it. This clearly leads to another question as to when human dignity would start in the biological life a human being: at conception, at birth or in the in-between stages of the fetus? After discussion Kant’s ideas on rationality and self-determination in relation to human dignity, Hufen reflects on the political/legal dimension of medicine and the ethics of healing. State can allow medicine to flourish so that sufferings and diseases can be alleviated. He rightly observes that, although the sufferer retains and should retain dignity, disease and suffering may compromise it (154). This is true especially when we keep in mind that every human being has different (low or high) tolerance for suffering. After examining the implications of human dignity in several areas of medicine such as in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research, Hufen concludes that human dignity is in danger neither as a principle nor as an ethical ground of the community (161-2).
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This new translation of Nietzsche’s magnum opus is by far the best available in the English language. It should find its way to the desk of all students who do not have access to the original German.
Every student of Nietzsche in the Anglophone world should read this book. It is a most able treatment of a much-ignored and much-misunderstood topic close to the very heart of the writings of this seminal thinker.
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