Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dignity and Honorary Doctorates

I don't know who this guy is.  Hopefully he's not a Communist.
Receiving an honorary doctorate, I maintain, can make one more dignified. It can add dignity.  This is not necessarily the case, of course.  Word has it that at one of my alma maters a board member who had an honorary doctorate insisted that everyone refer to him as Dr._______.  Clearly this honor had gone to his head, and he acted in less than a dignified manner overestimating his own worth.

Another example of when receiving an honorary doctorate does not confer dignity: When someone is given an honorary doctorate who simply deserves punishment and not reward. If Stalin were given an honorary doctorate the honor would be a pure farce.  But thought well-of because of evil by evil people does not add worth.

So one must already have some dignity worthy of receiving an honorary doctorate in order have dignity from that honor--one must already have a good deal of dignity in fact.  But the receiving of an honorary doctorate is not something that one deserves.  The honorary doctorate is a supererogatory good.   And the honoring of someone in this way adds dignity.  One has now been honored by having an honorary doctorate.  One has now been esteemed with this award and one now has the benefits and privileges therein.


  1. I don't know if you put the caption under the picture to this post or not, but that is definitely Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and The Traveling Wilburys.

    Regarding honorary doctorates conferring additional dignity on someone, maybe that's right. It softens me up to your side a little. I was thinking in the same way that Monash was in the last post when he foot stompingly declared that there is no dignity conferred upon one by anyone else. Why is it wrong to think that receiving an honorary doctorate is just faux-dignity (or no dignity)?
    Suppose Stalin received an honorary doctorate, not because he was thought well of for being evil by evil people, but because good people thought well of him but were massively confused. I want to say that no dignity is given to Stalin in this case either. Why? Because receiving an honorary doctorate is not dignity conferring ever, but often serves as an outward symbol that we recognize the person receiving the award already has this special dignity, coming from a certain sort of mastery or accomplishment.

    When C.S. Lewis received his honorary doctorate, it did not dignify him anymore. He already had great dignity coming from his intellectual and literary achievements. The honorary doctorate was just people rightly recognizing those things.

    Now, you might say back to me, "Why do literary and intellectual achievements confer dignity? They only do so because they are human values." I suppose you could say that there is objectively good literature and objectively good intellectual accomplishments, in which case you don't need others for the conferring of dignity. But, if there are not such objective goods, maybe you are right that dignity can come from others. I'm not sure if I'm making sense anymore.

  2. By golly that IS Jeff Lynne!! I had not seen a picture of him taken within the last 20 years. Didn't even recognize him (though I guess I should've with the shades and the hair and the beard).

    I would say that if Stalin is given an honorary doctorate by good (though misguided) people then Stalin is thereby given SOME dignity. At the same time the good group loses some dignity.

    I think that when C.S. Lewis receives an honorary doctorate he is dignified more. Probably not MUCH more--certainly not much worth fussing about; still, it's an honor bestowed on him.

    Also, I never said you NEED others to confer dignity. There is some dignity one has by having a human nature. There is dignity attained by achieving goals, cultivating virtues and the like.