Human Dignity

Human dignity has perennially been preserved in international laws and agreements, constitutions and declarations as an inalienable human right. But the main paradox of this term is that it is widely used and its meaning is being understood at the intuitive level, it also follows such universally recognized concepts as love, friendship, hope, faith that are never given a clear definition. Nowadays the term of human dignity can be found in the official documents of all international organizations’; both Council of Europe and UNESCO tell about the protection of human dignity. This term refers to a human beings’ right to be appreciated and treated in a proper ethical way. The term nowadays is widely used among philosophers, historical and political scientists and journalists. It is also used by politicians as tool to put down the opposition talking while talking about various violations and crimes. But despite the fact that today the term of human dignity is well-known and used, its meaning is sometimes lost in the variety of fake definitions given to it by representatives of different social, religious, culture groups in order to reach their targets. To reach the real concept of dignity we need to look back in time on the period when it has just been elaborated, as the real dignity is much more complicated than it seems.

Originally the term dignity has its origins from Latin word “dignitas” that originally means human status within the society and it can be referred to a situation when a person does not receive proper respect from the society, or it can relate to the condition of the lack of self-respect or self-confidence (Tasioulas, 2013).

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The term originally originates in the times of Renaissance, when the great philosopher, Pico della Mirandola began to use the term in the context of ideas and general concept of being. His main work, “The Oration on the Dignity of Man”, the author concentrates the attention of every human being on its own targets and perspectives, potential and personal point of view (Mirandola, 1486). Pico himself was a highly educated person with huge intellectual potential. This work might have been the first one of the series of future works that had never been written because of Mirandola’s early death (Olaziola, 2013). Mirandola tells that the human dignity is a main calling of human’s life that is needed to be realized in three stages: the moral metamorphosis, developing of the intellectual potential by scientific researches and ultimate consummation in identifying oneself with the existing reality. The philosopher believed that God created humans in a unique way. We have no special features to do for the whole life, we are not strictly connected to place we were born, people we meet, things we may do. We have no specific appearance that determines our life. Therefore, we have the freedom of choice. We can choose what to do with this life and who we want to be. This choice determines our dignity: we can make the right choices, develop our mind and soul and then in future life we will be divine. Or we can weaken our mentality, our mind and soul, search for nothing and then we will descent on the level of an animal.

Blaise Pascal, the well-known inventor, scientist and philosopher in his notions about human dignity compares humans with the tiniest and the weakest material – the reed. It is to express our real weakness and physical imperfection. But in contrast he mentions our greatest power – ability to think and analyze everything that happens in this world. Therefore, he finds it the greatest privilege that was given to us and even the universe doesn’t have such a privilege. The human dignity, according to Pascal, consists of this privilege – our thoughts (Olaziola,2013). Our dignity is the key to our endeavor, as we can use it to rise above the commonplace of life.

The third philosopher who has been developing the concept of human rights and human dignity was Immanuel Kant. As one of the key representative of the period of Enlightenment, Kant believed that there are things that can’t be considered as the one having a value. These things were not connected to the world of material, and they were thought to have dignity. Value was a non-constant magnitude, as its definition and real worth depended on a point of view of a concrete observer and therefore in every concrete situation value could have changed or even disappeared. According to this statement there were no things of a constant valuation and so they might have a sense of dignity in some cases. Things that constantly had no value were considered as the end in themselves, which means that by their nature they stand above all values and these characteristics were given only to a moral mensuration. To that group Kant attributed such concepts as morality, humanity, the general good or evil choice. Kant was the one to bring the concept of dignity out in the view of Western philosophy, to develop the understanding of the term. His theories were popular and suited the spirit of the historic period. Kant also insisted on the importance of the humans’ free will, as he understood human dignity as the one that is closely connected to the ability of people to choose.

Human dignity occupies one of the central places in such religious movements, as Protestantism and Catholicism. The catholic teaching says that every human being has a dignity, which follows from the external appearance that has been given to all of human beings that is in the image of God. Human dignity was also a central concept in Judaism, where the concept of dignity was told to be protected in court, as judges were told to respect the personality of a person that comes to them and therefore to protect his dignity.

These numerous examples show us the real importance of the concept of human dignity, which represents something more than can be seen from the first glance. Dignity is a right to be protected, a notion to be considered and understood. Talking about human dignity in connection to other human rights, we have to understand the main differences of the notion. Dignity can’t be seen or actually mentioned. It is a right to be respected and respect, to be considered as a real human being, therefore a Gods’ creature that thinks, feels, analyses, chooses on his own. The human dignity should be understood as a dignity of a human being, what means that the concept denotes to every human on the planet from the moment of birth and for the whole lifetime despite the race, nation, religion, age or gender.

The great meaning of the concept of dignity can be seen in the frame of actual protection of all human rights, as it also protects peoples’ rights and freedoms. The sense of a persons’ dignity also means the importance of the one just as a human being. This value can’t be taken from any person; it is given us by nature and is inalienable, as all the other human rights. And, according to the statement mentioned above, the term of human dignity, its importance and protection of such a right is being mentioned in nearly all national constitutions, declarations, international agreements and documents of a worldwide importance.

The notion of being respected just as a human being means the great value of every single member of human population and declares the equality of all human being, regardless of any physical or mental characteristics. It means that we are all the same and that we have to respect the representatives of the same biological subgroup because of our dignity. Therefore, the ability to respect each other was given to people by dignity. The high value of the inside potential we have can be properly understood by nobody, except human race and God. And we have to respect this ability to understand, compare, analyze, appreciate and respect. This great opportunity is the base for all other human rights, as it gives us possibility to elaborate these rights, and live in accordance with them. We don’t have to take this ability for granted. In other way, we will just loose self-respect and respect of other human beings. Without studying, getting new knowledge and skills we will degrade and in the end lose our dignity, getting on the same stage with animals.

For me the term of human dignity means the main feature given to a human being for understanding and getting joy of life. Human dignity should be considered as the bas for all other human rights, the line connecting all the basic notions giving the definition to the basic rights and freedoms. Dignity has to be respected by society and therefore protected by it. The main thoughts of the religious movements that also considered dignity as one of the basic notions, told about the importance of understanding the high value of dignity in order to protect it in courts, churches and on the state level. I think that the high influence of Catholic Church in Western Europe and Protestant church in the Northern America region played the key role for the development of the term. The religious leaders provoked people to think about dignity, to seek for the simple explanation of what it is and how it acts in the everyday life. The importance of dignity in the basic religious books also enforced scientists and philosophers to think about dignity, to elaborate their own definitions and to give different explanations, as each explanation reflected the period of time when its’ author lived, the beliefs of the majority of the population at that time and to make them suitable and close to the people of the time.

As the human rights’ history faced a lot of challenges before it was commonly accepted and supported, the same happened to the human dignity. The right to have one was also once doubted, and the only way to prevent total ignorance of the important feature of human personality was to study it and write about it. Thanks to the church the basic statements were saved. But without new theoretical thought, that touched the question of the original of human dignity and of its implementation in people’s life the term would just have been left as a part of religious life. The real dignity value found the way to our life with the help of the philosophers of the renaissance period and the period of Enlightenment that wanted to expand high moral values, high morality and ethics in the everyday life of the whole society. Before the elaboration of dignity the social life within states was incredibly distanced from any democratic thoughts or tendencies. Of course, the change couldn’t have happened at once, it took a long time to understand all of the basic human rights, to argue their necessity to be respected and considered as universal natural and inalienable, but in the end the way of social thinking has finally been changed.

Our right of dignity also played the key role in the development of nowadays government systems and the international law. As a living creature, human always tries to gain better conditions for better life. Human I a social living creature and it can only survive living within a community. There are many types of communities: we can mention family, tribe, regional unit, polis, professional community and national government. Comparing all these types the best for human life is a national government. This means that regarding all the features needed for a comfort human life people need to create such a social unity, within which there would function particular mechanisms, the main aim of which is to cope with different types of problems of the society. Therefore, we need some specific group of people that will solve the problems of the other people living in the government. All this system is of course based on dignity, our wish to live better, to improve the conditions of our everyday routine, to be close to other human beings, to communicate and to develop our intellectual potential, what leads of the complication of our social community type of organization. This leads to creation of a growing number of such communities – national governments – that also want to communicate, as two big unities of human beings. This is also because of human dignity – our need to study life, to make new researches about the whole world around us and people that also live on the planet.

The human dignity leads to our dependence on the community we live in and the society around us. The communication within the society is both natural and social need of a human being, as without this social cooperation within the community he can’t survive. By living inside some social unity, contacting with other representatives of the unity, we gain new knowledge that is so important for our human dignity. We call this culture that is also one of the basic features, which makes us different from animals. An animal always comes to the starting point. There is practically no difference between different groups or generations in the animal world. What makes us unique is that we always try to enrich our knowledge, to improve skills and to gain more development of human potential, which also leads to human dignity. The elaboration of human right was also one of the ways to enrich our social life, to analyze our uniqueness and to give all of us equal respect of this uniqueness. So, all people are born equal. But what is the measure of this equality? If it is not a skin color, race, age, height, language, that what? It can be also the way of thinking or the amount of knowledge. This is one of the key topics of human rights (Loning, 2013). As for me, personally I think that we are being born totally different talking about our intellectual or physical potential. But at the same time I do agree that we are all born equal. Sounds strange, but it is so.

Talking about human rights it took a long way to cope with peoples’ natural differences, as the amount of us has the same values and targets. We all value democracy and liberal rights and freedoms, and we all want to be considered equal, because we are all people and we all need some respect and attention. We all can’t live outside community, as we enrich our own personality by exchanging our experience within the community. We all understand the value of national government as the community with a high level; of organization that functions in a specific way in order to give us needed security and support. We all understand the importance of intergovernmental communication that provokes our governments to elaborate specific mechanisms of communication. And, moreover, our tendency to unite with each other improved even on the international arena with creation of international organizations that cope with the problems of international communication. This international communication also leads to the enrichment of our cultures and the development of international law. The international law also played the key role in the spread of the concept of human rights and human dignity.

The importance that human beings that we today understand are all based on the key notion that was once elaborated – human dignity. Human dignity is a term that covers our mental rights, rights to have our personal value, to know this value, to respect it and to be respected, to enrich our inner world, to get new knowledge, to develop in all spheres of our life every single day. The concept of human rights in closely connected to the human dignity, as human rights are also natural, inalienable and of a universal character. The concept of human dignity was always very interesting field of study for numerous philosophers and religious leaders as dignity touches one of the most interesting spheres of philosophy and human personality. Dignity is the key feature that provoked people to elaborate certain mechanisms of social organization, as the concept of deserving respect just by being a human tended to cooperate to protect each other, respect each other and receive and accept proper behavior. The concept of proper behavior was a base for all rights and freedoms, culture, laws and traditions, that make us in some way unique and by contacting with each other we somehow enrich the inner world of each other, support our dignity and therefor develop of humanity. Human rights were elaborated on the base of human dignity as without the understanding of unique features of a human being that have to be respected and treated in a proper way we won’t be able to cope with some real barriers that now mean personal rights of every human being. The concept of equality is also extremely important to be cultivated as we are all unique and therefore in some kind we are all different. But at the same time we are all the same, as we deserve to be behaved with equally, on equal basis and with equal respect. This right to be treated equally is one of the biggest achievements of our social system, as it gives a huge push towards our development as social members, as culture members, as personalities. The term of dignity once implemented in the understanding of human being not by chance became one of the main features that make us different, as we really differ from any other living creature and we have to remember about the great value of this feature. Human dignity as a phenomenon that made us unique and behaving like no other creature on the planet has to be studied and understood and I think that the basic notion is to understand the real meaning and the real value of the term that once appeared and at the same time opened an extremely important door towards the concept on universal human rights, common to all the human beings. The interdependence of these two terms is extremely high and both of them represent one of the key achievements of our human race.


  1. Loning, M. Human dignity is inviolable.
  2. Mirandola, P. Oration on the Dignity of Man.
  3. Olaizola, M. Human Dignity: A Normative Justification of Human Rights.
  4. Tasioulas, J. Human Dignity and the Foundations of Human Rights.