The varieties of dignity

Health Care Anal. 2004 Jun;12(2):69-81; discussion 83-89. doi: 10.1023/B:HCAN.0000041183.78435.4b.


As a part of a research project on Dignity and Older Europeans (Fifth Framework (Quality of Life) Programme3) I explore in this paper a set of notions of human dignity. The general concept of dignity is introduced and characterized as a position on a value scale and it is further specified through its relations to the notions of right, respect and self-respect. I present four kinds of dignity and spell out their differences: the dignity of merit, the dignity of moral or existential stature, the dignity of identity and the universal human dignity (Menschenwürde). Menschenwürde pertains to all human beings to the same extent and cannot be lost as long as the persons exist. The dignity of merit depends on social rank and position. There are many species of this kind of dignity and it is very unevenly distributed among human beings. The dignity of merit exists in degrees and it can come and go. The dignity of moral stature is the result of the moral deeds of the subject; likewise it can be reduced or lost through his or her immoral deeds. This kind of dignity is tied to the idea of a dignified character and of dignity as a virtue. The dignity of moral stature is a dignity of degree and it is also unevenly distributed. The dignity of identity is tied to the integrity of the subject's body and mind, and in many instances, although not always, also dependent on the subject's self-image. This dignity can come and go as a result of the deeds of fellow human beings and also as a result of changes in the subject's body and mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Class
  • Social Perception