We explain what dignity is, its philosophical definitions and elements. Also, what are its general characteristics and examples.

The concept of dignity today is linked to freedom.

What is dignity?

Dignity is called a value of the human being, that is to say, that it is not granted by anyone but that we all possess without distinction of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or other conditioning factors. It points to the respect and consideration that any individual deserves for the mere fact of being human. In this sense, the concept of dignity today is linked to freedom, rationality, ethics and human values.

However, in ancient times, it was associated with certain traditional values ​​linked to religious faith, respect for tradition or belonging to a human group that is considered deserving of the respect of others. That is why there are phrases like “It is better to die with dignity than live on your knees” or other expressions that come close to pride.

Commonly refers to live with dignity or decent living conditions in a very different sense: at the minimum acceptable level, in ideal (not pragmatic) terms of wealth and well-being, in which a human being can live, enjoying the respect and equality of his fellow men.

See also: Basic needs

Origin of dignity

Dignity as a value is long-standing in the culture of the human being. Nevertheless, with Christianity it emerges as a universal value and a personal mandate.

Regarding its legal value, only in the 20th century, after the Second World War and its atrocities revealed, it was proposed as a value to defend. It was an objective that was no longer individual but collective, of the entire species.

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Henceforth, this idea of ​​human dignity appeared in international treaties and it was considered a task to be achieved by the organized community: decent living conditions for all human beings without distinction. A goal still far from being achieved.

types of dignity

According to philosophy, we can talk about three types of dignity:

  • ontological or human dignity. That which is born with human beings and which is based on their belonging to the species.
  • Moral dignity. That which concerns the behavior of people in society and the judgment that it is made regarding good and evil.
  • Real or acquired dignity. The one that others around us perceive and that points to the consideration that they make of us.

What is dignity for?

Dignity is one of the pillars of equity and equality.

The dignity it is not a “useful” value, nor is it something that can be “applied”. It is a category based on which we think of ourselves and of others.

dignity is one of the pillars of equity, equality and freedombecause the moment we convince ourselves (or allow ourselves to be convinced) that a type of person or a specific person lacks dignity, we will feel that we can treat them as if they were less than a human being.

A clear example of this is the treatment that slaves received in antiquity or what happened to the Jewish people during the so-called Holocaust of World War II.

Differences between honor and dignity

these terms can be considered equivalent in many casesalthough they are not exactly. Its limits are fuzzy because it deals with relative values, not absolute ones, much less scientific ones.

We could say that the Dignity is a value that the human being exerts on himself, that is, it is autonomous, it is defined by oneself about oneself. It has to do with self-esteem, with self-consideration and with what you are willing to do and what you are not.

Pride and honor, although they are considerations that the human being exerts on himself, must be considered different since the latter He does it motivated by “what they will saythat is, by the consideration that others will give to their actions or their values, and to the position vis-à-vis the rest of society in which they will place them.

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ethics and dignity

Dignity also operates as a concept similar to ethics. It is mentioned in treatises on bioethics Y human rightsfor instance.This is because all behaviors, projects, or activities that consider the human being as something less than what he is, that is, that they treat it as an object, an animal or a property and not as a free, rational and suffering being, are considered unworthy. For this reason, they harass, humiliate and degrade the one who executes them more than the one who suffers them.

For example, genetic engineering of human fetuses is considered unworthy of the species, since it would suppose that we are manipulable, programmable or manufacturable things, like merchandise. In addition, it implies great risks for something invaluable: the genetic legacy of humanity.

animal dignity

animal dignity
Animal dignity implies seeing animals as beings that deserve respect.

This concept is recent and goes hand in hand with the consideration of animal rights as something real and legally binding. It is about contemplating animals as suffering beings and deserving of respect. For this reason, they deserve a treatment that takes into account their needs and sufferings, not that considers them mere objects.

Human dignity

Humans we don’t always treat each other as we deserve it, that is, with a minimum of respect for the needs and sufferings of the other. In this sense, the dignity of people has to do with the amount of consideration to which they feel deserving (their self-esteem), but also the amount of respect with which others are willing to treat them.

Thus, an unworthy person is one who either grants himself less respect than any human being deserves, or who grants others less respect than they deserve. Either way, dignity It is something that has to do with what we give.

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Elements of human dignity

Subjective elements concern the individual perspective of people.

Human dignity comprises two types of elements:

  • subjective elements. Those that concern the individual perspective of people, and their conviction that the living conditions available to them are sufficient to achieve happiness and fulfillment.
  • Objective elements. Those that concern objective reality, the very conditions of life available to a human being to be happy and free.

This distinction can be appreciated in the following example: a person reduced to slavery by other people may be suffering unworthy treatment and living an unworthy life, but doing so with the greatest possible dignity, without ever agreeing with the idea of ​​deserving such ills. deals.

Phrases about dignity

  • “Dignity does not consist in having honors, but in deserving them.”
    Aristotle (384-322 BC)
  • “By lying, man annihilates his dignity as a man.”
    Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
  • “The dignity of human nature requires that we face the storms of life.”
    Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
  • “Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.”
    Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

examples of dignity

dignity example discussion
Arguing with dignity requires behaving respectfully even in disagreement.
  • It is said that a person is worthy when they face adversity without lowering themselves, that is, understanding that not because they are having a bad time, they stop being a human being in full use of their faculties and rights.
  • It is said that a person is dignified or responds with dignity when he faces another in a debate, a fight or an argument and proceeds with respect towards his adversary.
  • A person is worthy when he honors his acquired commitments, with himself and with others, considering that his pledged word is valuable for the mere fact of being his.


  • “Dignity” on Wikipedia.
  • “Dignity” in the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  • “Human dignity” by Lamm, Eleonora. DELS, Argentine Ministry of Health.
  • “Of human dignity” in Entre Parenthesis.
  • “What is human dignity” (video) in Educatina.
  • “What is the Real Meaning of Dignity?” in PsychologyToday.

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