Dignity

The phrase human dignity is as ubiquitous today in enlightened global discourse as human rights.  Indeed, the two are intimately connected, the first being regarded as a subset of the second, as in, “the right to human dignity.”  But dignity in this context is used abstractly and in a universal sense, rather than concretely and in a personal one.  In postmodern understanding, dignity is inherent in every human being by virtue of his humanity and demands equal respect from other human beings.  But dignity used in the abstract, postmodern, humanist sense, has nothing to do with the traditional meaning of the word.  I am not even sure there is a word, in any language with which I am familiar, that conveys the new meaning.

My Langenscheidt’s Latin dictionary defines dignitas as “worthiness, merit; a) dignity, grandeur, splendour, dignified exterior, majesty, distinction, element; b) personal dignity, honour, esteem, authority; c) rank, high office.”  Each of these definitions has something in common, and that is its obvious specific or personal application.  Dignity, as we see here, is not a generic term; it applies to some distinguishing quality, to something earned, or to something peculiarly inherited.  There is nothing universal about it.  All human beings are alike in having been made in the image of God, but that is...

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