This article offers a new sociological understanding of human dignity as a structural feature of modern functionally differentiated society. Durkheim and Luhmann build their analyses of dignity on the notion that functional differentiation and individualization are interconnected. At the same time, both assume implicitly that only living human beings can be bearers of dignity. The philosophical discussion around dignity does not take this for granted, however. Fichte responded to Kant's analysis of dignity by treating as an open question who can be identified as a bearer of dignity and by what criterion. If it is to take this seriously, sociological analysis must combine the theory of functional differentiation with an analysis of the borders of the social world. This paper follows this insight by presenting a new approach to human dignity that provides a systematic sociological answer to the question of how the borders of the social world are connected with the structure of social differentiation. In conclusion, I explore the implications for the concept of responsibility: how can bearers of human dignity be held responsible in a functionally differentiated society?
© De Gruyter