In prior work, I have examined human dignity as a foundational value. In this essay, I elaborate on the content of my prior claim that human rights are comprised by dignity. This elaboration begins with an objection to the notion that dignity comprises fundamental rights. The objection is based on the idea of "vicious circularity": if human rights are comprised by dignity, then dignity-based justifications are circular.
The vicious circularity objection is fundamentally misguided, or more precisely, it is incomplete. Elaborating on the bottom-up approach to foundationalism in my prior work, I now introduce the notion of virtuous circularity in the justification of political concepts. Virtuous circularity is conceptually related to the Rawlsian idea of reflective equilibrium or Quine's notion of a web of belief. Our beliefs about human rights cohere with our beliefs about dignity; the two belief clusters stand in a relationship of mutual support. The content and importance of human rights are specified and supported by our belief in human dignity; the content and importance of dignity are specified and supported by our beliefs about human rights. Justifications in political and legal theory must work this way--otherwise, the search for foundations must end in one of two unappealing ways. Either it is turtles all the way down, or we reach the point where foundations run out altogether leaving our judgments suspended in air.
Thus, the vicious circularity objection fails to the extent that it does not take into account the possibility of virtuous circularity. In prior work, I did not defend any particular version of the claim that human dignity is the foundation of human rights; that gap is filled here.