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Dignity ( Latin dignitas ) usually denotes a moral or generally high rank in a hierarchy of values or a priority position of people who demands respect . Traditionally dignity institutions as well as individuals awarded , also functions ( offices ) or a certain social status or still could be carriers of certain dignity. The degree of dignity corresponds to differently graded expectations of the behavior of the bearers of dignity as well as of the respect that is to be shown to them.

With the concept of human dignity , this notion is expanded and linked to a special determination of existence that is intended to distinguish every human being from all other living beings . In more recent literature there is also talk of a dignity of animals or nature , which should be equated with or even include human dignity.

In modern usage, the dignity based on intrinsic properties is differentiated as “inner honor” from (outer) honor . The notion of dignity itself must be distinguished from its recognition in the form of prestige . The ceremony or attribution of dignity as an activity, is as worthy or recognition referred.


Word origin and history

Would (from Old High German  wirdî ; Middle High German  Wirde ) is etymologically related to the word "value" and initially called the rank, the honor, the merit or reputation of a single person .

Colloquial language

Colloquially, dignity has different meanings:

  • In the general understanding of language, dignity denotes a person's worth worthy of respect and the importance assigned to him because of this.
  • Of dignity in the sense of grandeur is called in the context of rituals , institutions and the like ( "a worthy celebration", "the dignity of the state").
  • Of dignity given honors and / or high esteem is also associated with a title associated offices spoken (see. The "dignity of the office", as the Federal President, "must not be damaged"). Accordingly, especially in the upscale linguistic usage, the bearers of special secular and spiritual offices are referred to as dignitaries .

What worthy or not worthy (undignified, disgraceful is felt), is neither well defined nor constant, but is subject, like all values constant social change . Cf. at least Friedrich Schiller's poem Dignity of Women . Which behavior a person regards as compatible with his or her dignity differs from person to person.

Colloquial idioms include:

  • This is beneath my dignity.
  • Dignity is trampled on.

The difference to honor or fame should be noted: While honor and fame represent an external value, for example conveyed by a society, the value of dignity lies within each person himself.

History of ideas

Christian anthropology

Christianity traditionally interprets the Old Testament talk of man as the image of God and of his primacy among God's creatures to the effect that his dignity is God-given and cannot be lost. It applies to everyone as such and is therefore independent of living conditions or behavior.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

The first to formulate the concept of human dignity (Latin dignitas hominis ) is the Renaissance philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola . According to Pico della Mirandola, human dignity is based on the fact that, to put it more pointedly, human nature lies in the fact that he has no (fixed) nature, that, in other words, he has the freedom to create his being himself. The Creator has Pico say to Adam: “I have not assigned you a specific place, neither have I given you a specific appearance and not any special gift, Adam, so that you can have the place, the appearance and all the gifts that you have desire yourself, receive and own according to your own will and decision. The well-defined nature of the remaining creatures only unfolds within the laws I have prescribed. You will be free from all restrictions according to your own free will, to which I have left you, to determine your own nature. ”According to Pico, this self-determination of the person constitutes his dignity.

European enlightenment

Since the Enlightenment, in contrast to the previous concrete meaning, "dignity" has increasingly been used to denote an abstract moral value, which is ultimately a quality of action (dignity as a design mandate ) or, even more abstractly, a peculiarity generally immanent in human beings (dignity as a characteristic ) designated. This is often associated with the idea of ​​a design assignment that is to be realized by the individual and society.

Addressed to the individual, this is expressed in Friedrich Schiller in On Grace and Dignity (1793): “Control of the instincts through moral force is freedom of the spirit, and dignity is its expression in appearance. Dignity, too, has its various degrees and becomes noble where it approaches grace and beauty, and where it borders on the terrible, it becomes majesty. The highest degree of grace is the bewitching, the highest degree of dignity is majesty. "

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant founds human dignity in several of his writings on practical philosophy, especially in the foundation of the metaphysics of morals , the metaphysics of morals and the criticism of practical reason , with the reason of man, which only itself has its own law (for the Judgment of the morally good) (and is therefore called " autonomous "). Action evaluations move according to Kant in a structural whole, which he calls the "realm of purposes" and which sets it apart from the factual and causal relationships that theoretical reason describes. In this “realm of ends” everything has a price (which is more or less high) or dignity. An “end in itself” has no relative value like price, so it cannot be outweighed by other purposes. Instead, it has an intrinsic value, dignity, which is based on the ability of practically sensible beings to autonomously evaluate action as morally good (or morally bad) (so-called morality). The dignity is given to the human being as such (not due to any accidental properties), Kant also formulates: "humanity". Another formulation for the non-calculable human dignity as such is the formulation variant of Kant's supreme moral principle (so-called categorical imperative ), people always (always also) as an end in themselves (i.e. never just as a means to a relative, which can be deducted from it Purpose).

Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich Schiller sees in dignity the expression of a lofty disposition . Schiller sees the decisive difference to animals in human free will . Dignity arises when the will of man rises above his natural instinct: "Control of the instincts through moral force is freedom of the spirit, and dignity is its expression in appearance." (Friedrich Schiller, About Grace and Dignity )

Schiller, however, did not see dignity as an idealistic dream, but based on the satisfaction of elementary needs and the overcoming of material need (compare his 1797 distich dignity of the human being ):

"Nothing more, I ask you. Give him to eat, to live.
If you have covered the nakedness, the dignity gives itself. "

- Friedrich Schiller : Muses-Almanach for the year 1797. JG Cottaischen Buchhandlung, Tübingen (= Complete Works. Volume 1, Munich, p. 248).

Bertolt Brecht

Almost synonymous with Schiller's epigram about human dignity, Bertolt Brecht wrote in his Threepenny Opera : “First there is food, then comes morality.” In his text Five Difficulties in Writing Truth, he suggests that the word “honor” should be replaced by the To replace the word “ human dignity ”, and thus points to the fundamental difference between the two principles: Honor is something external, dignity something internal.

Peter Bieri

The Swiss philosopher Peter Bieri no longer understands dignity as a metaphysical quality of human beings that cannot be taken from anyone under any circumstances. Rather, he interprets human dignity as a certain type of personal lifestyle that can also fail. In doing so, he also refers to the risk of loss of dignity. Peter Bieri understands this as the sadistically intended, demonstrated powerlessness of a person. An individual can get into such a situation of powerlessness not only through the influence of his fellow human beings, but also entirely through his own fault. Degradation also arises from certain mistakes in one's own lifestyle. On the other hand, however, the question of the extent to which a person can free himself from a situation of powerlessness depends on his own actions. In his philosophical essay " A way of life - On the diversity of human dignity", Peter Bieri also explains how a subject can succeed in breaking out of their own sadistic way through the intrinsic dissociation of body and mind - for example in the case of " lip service " to save abused impotence. This means that the degradation only remains objectively. However, if an individual has brought himself into a situation in which he is rejected not only by others but also by himself, this dissociation no longer succeeds. As a result, there is usually a massive feeling of unhappiness, which often leads to suicide. Bieri therefore also sees dignity as a necessary condition for a happy life.

Usage of terms in law

human dignity

There are several legal terms of dignity:

  • Constitutional law : Art. 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic LawHuman dignity is inviolable”. It is viewed as an unchangeable (pre-constitutional) basic human right and begins with its nidation . The beginning at the time of conception is controversial. Human dignity is directly applicable law, not just a declaration of intent. It is the highest value of the Basic Law. In addition, general human rights should ensure a dignified existence. Human dignity thus becomes, on the one hand, the "supporting foundation of human rights", on the other hand, it also becomes its ultimate goal and, albeit perhaps an unattainable ideal. For Franz Josef Wetz , ideologically neutral (insofar as possible), there is “the true content of human dignity in realized human rights - a life in physical integrity, free self-determination and self-respect as well as in social justice”.
  • At some times, under public law, “a dignity” was a high title with an inherent obligation (cf. “appointing someone to office and dignity” - historical example: a medieval emperor like Otto the Great had this as a dignity [title with duty], but he did officiated by virtue of the fact that he was also the German king [in principle sole ruler]).
  • The “protection of the peace of the dead”, which is reinforced by criminal law in Germany, implicitly assumes that humans also have dignity when dead (as in 2005 in criminal law on the occasion of a cannibalism case ).

Animal dignity

The concept of dignity is by no means restricted to humans, even in legal determinations. Animals are also given dignity. In a referendum on May 17, 1992, Art. 120 of the Swiss Federal Constitution was passed on the regulation of reproductive medicine and genetic engineering . In the second paragraph, the dignity of the creature found its way into the following wording:

“The federal government issues regulations on the handling of germs and genes from animals, plants and other organisms. It takes into account the dignity of creatures as well as the safety of humans, animals and the environment and protects the genetic diversity of animal and plant species. "

As early as June 25, 1980, the term dignity of the creature was introduced in Article 14 of the constitution of the canton of Aargau to limit the freedom of research and teaching . There it says:

“Scientific teaching and research as well as artistic activity are free. Teaching and research have to respect the dignity of the creature. "

Dignity of plants

Since 1999, plants have been included in Article 120, Paragraph 2 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, which gives shape to plant rights .

Since 2004, the dignity of plants has also been anchored in the Swiss Genetic Engineering Act , Article 8.

“In animals and plants, genetic modification of the genetic material must not disregard the dignity of the creature. This is particularly disregarded if species-specific characteristics, functions or ways of life are significantly impaired and this is not justified by overriding interests worthy of protection. When assessing the impairment, the difference between animals and plants must be taken into account. "


Concept history

Overview representations
middle Ages
  • P. Kondylis et al. a .: dignity. In: O. Brunner, W. Conzer, R. Koselleck (eds.): Basic historical concepts. 7, 1997, pp. 637-677.

Systematic literature

Overview representations
  • N. Rainer: Dignity. In: Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. Volume 4: R-Z. Pp. 784-787.
  • MJ Meyer: Art. Dignity. In: LC Becker, CB Becker (eds. :) Encyclopedia of Ethics. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York 1992.
  • RS Dillon (Ed.): Dignity, Character, and Self-Respect. Routledge, New York 1995.
  • Michael Fischer (Ed.): The concept of human dignity. 2., revised. Edition. Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2005, ISBN 3-631-54223-2 .
  • Joschka Haltaufderheide, Ina Otte, Philipp Weber (ed.): Space and dignity. Interdisciplinary contributions to the relationship between normativity and spatial reality. Urban planning - transit locations - hospices . Transcript, Bielefeld 2019, ISBN 978-3-8376-4732-7 .
  • Ph. Balzer, KP Rippe, P. Schaber: Human dignity vs. Dignity of the creature. Freiburg 1998.
  • R. Gröschner, S. Kirste, O. Lembcke (eds.): The human dignity - discovered and invented in the humanism of the Italian Renaissance. Tübingen 2008
  • Christel Köhle-Hezinger: Behave yourself with dignity. Notes on the ritual of dignity. In: Hessian papers for folk and cultural research. New episode 30/1993, pp. 11-27.
  • Peter Bieri : A Way of Life - About the Diversity of Human Dignity. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-446-24349-1 .
  • P. Schaber: Instrumentalization and dignity. Mentis, Paderborn 2010.

Web links

Wikiquote: Dignity  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Dignity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. A. Grossmann: Art. Dignity. In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy . Volume 12, pp. 1088-1093.
  2. dignity. In: Arnim Regenbogen, Uwe Meyer: Dictionary of Philosophical Terms. Meiner, Hamburg 1998.
  3. dignity. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 30 : WilbHyssop - (XIV, 2nd section). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1960, Sp. 2060–2088 ( woerterbuchnetz.de ). - (on etymology and use in older German-language literature).
  4. ^ Would on the website of the Duden publishing house.
  5. Friedrich Schiller: Dignity of women. in the Gutenberg project .
  6. ^ Also Rudolf Eisler : Art. Dignity. In: Ders .: Kant-Lexikon. Reference work on all of Kant's writings, letters and handwritten bequests, Berlin 9. A. 1930.
  7. Human dignity. In: Collected Works. Volume 3, Gütersloh 1976, p. 438.
  8. ^ Friedrich Schiller: Muses-Almanach for the year 1797. JG Cottaischen Buchhandlung, Tübingen ( books.google.de , Wikisource ).
  9. BVerfG, decision of June 3, 1980, Az. 1 BvR 185/77, BVerfGE 54, 148 - Eppler.
  10. Franz Josef Wetz , Human dignity: touchable? P. 16.
  11. Axel W. Bauer : The human being as a product of genes and the inviolability of his dignity. In: Deutsche Richterzeitung. Volume 80, 2002, Issue 5, pp. 163-169.
  12. a b c Heike Baranzke: Dignity of the creature ?: The idea of ​​dignity in the horizon of bioethics . Königshausen & Neumann, Bonn 2002, ISBN 3-8260-2333-1 , p. 15 ( limited preview in the Google book search - dissertation , University of Bonn ).
  13. SR 101, Art. 120 Genetic Engineering in the Extra-Human Area Paragraph 2