Repository logo

Other Grounds for Dignity: Ideas from India in the Philosophies of Twentieth-Century Latin American Writers



Change log



In this thesis, I trace an alternative genealogy for the concept of dignity through six Latin American writers from the first half of the twentieth century—Gabriela Mistral (Chile), Vicente Fatone (Argentina), Pablo Neruda (Chile), Cecília Meireles (Brazil), Miguel Serrano (Chile) and Octavio Paz (Mexico), all of whom engaged deeply with ideas from India. The tradition of philosophical liberalism, derived from eighteenth century European tradition and found in Latin American criollo tradition, tends to put the reasoning individual at the center of its thinking, and associate dignity with a lucid mind within a productive body. Yet other, more holistic systems of value in Latin America, found in some indigenous, leftist Catholic and Asian-influenced thought, afford greater importance to aspects such as emotional sensibility, belonging in community, and cyclical ideas of time that allow for renewal, based in a respect for nonhuman beings and the natural world. Through their poetry and essays, the writers I discuss conceived of human value in interrelational ways extending beyond the individual physical body capable of reason, drawing on ideas from India newly accessible in Latin America in the first half of the twentieth century as globalization enabled an era of comparative religions, international politics and more widespread literary circulation. Reading these writers’ work in historical context, I bring them into dialogue with each other to recuperate ideas of dignity that integrate the self with community, local with global, and present with history. Ideas of dignity are at the root of conversations in Latin America today about “derechos de naturaleza” (rights of nature) and “derechos sociales” (social rights), which extend beyond the rights of the individual to consider the interrelated existence of humans with one another, the natural world and nonhuman beings. My Introduction discusses the pertinence of dignity discourse in the twentieth- and twenty-first century, dignity and its history in the Latin American context, the ways Latin American writers drew on ideas from India, some previous approaches to studying Latin American receptions of Indian thought, and my approach. The body of the thesis is structured in three sections: “Dignity of individual in community”, with Chapter I on Gabriela Mistral and Chapter II on Vicente Fatone; “Dignity of local in global”, with Chapter III on Pablo Neruda and Chapter IV on Cecília Meireles; and “Dignity of present in history”, with Chapter V on Miguel Serrano and Chapter VI on Octavio Paz. In my Conclusion, I discuss what this project leaves out, further directions it might take, and ways it grounds dignity as a “humanism beyond human rights”.





Page, Joanna
Kapila, Shruti


dignity, history, India, Latin America, philosophies, poetry


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust