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Does the concept of human dignity need to be justified?

Human dignity is not just one concept among many others, it is central to humanism.
As I see it the whole edifice of humanism crumbles if it is not based on human dignity.
But can human dignity be based on something else?
Can it be justified? And how?

Here are three ways to justify human dignity:

  1. Humans were created by God, and God created men and women in his image, they are endowed with a divine spirit which makes them essentially superior to the rest of God's creation.
    (This is the religious justification).

  2. Human beings are not like other animals, they (we) are unique and special. We are persons, we have self-awareness, we are conscious not only of the moment but also of our past and we can project our selves into the future, make plans or promises; we can invent and inhabit fictitious worlds and communicate about them; only we have science that allows us to know the secrets of our existence, and so on ...
    (This justification is based on human faculties)

  3. Humans have a special dignity because we are humans, and we ascribe dignity to ourselves because we like and admire ourselves. We are just great (not unlike a French patriot who deems France and its culture to be the best and most noble country and culture of the world, just because he is a proud Frenchman).
    (This kind of justification can be called 'speciesism', analogous to 'racism' or nationalism. I would call it collective narcissism)

So here are two questions: Do you think that human dignity is in need of justification?
If the answer is No: why not? because it is self-evident? (like "happiness is better than pain and sadness" is self-evident)
If the answer is Yes: what kind of justification do you prefer?

By Matias7
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To your points:

  1. There are no gods, so god did not create anything.
  2. There are some animals that have self-awareness. Humans do not maintain
    any kind of exclusivity in that respect
  3. Humans aren't any more or less "special" than any other species. Many of us
    just think we are.

    "Dignity" is a wholly subjective concept. Whether it needs "justification" or not, is entirely up to the individual.
KKGator Level 9 Mar 10, 2019

There are various reasons why humans, along with all of nature, are worthy of dignity and respect. The fact that anything at all exists is unbelievably marvelous. A single living cell is as complex as a city.

To not accord respect to all aspects of nature is to be living in a fog. To take it all for granted and greet life and reality with anger and scorn is illogical and irrational.

We DON’T KNOW how all of this arose, or what it means. The only logical response that I can think of is that of the utmost respect, awe, gratitude and appreciation in the face of the overwhelming miracle of existence.


Point One is essentially a ridiculous proposition. Its more like we created God in our image.

Point Two is equally ridiculous, the proposition smacks of complete ethnocentrism. We are just another biological species on this planet. We evolved a tool that is called abstract thought. It gives us the ability to modify our immediate environment, but it also shields us from those instinctual urges that actually protects us from being unfit (evolutionarily speaking) for our environment. this fact alone will lead us to our demise of the human species as we move further and further from our evolutionary fitness.

Each species of organism on our planet has evolved specializations that allow them to survive and proliferate in their adapted environment. Eagles have wings, talons, a beak adapted for tearing its prey, and exceeding acute eye sight. The mangrove is adapted to briny environment that is so brackish as to be untenable for other plant semi-terrestrial/semi-aquatic plant life. Etc.

Its just one more adaptation,nothing more nothing less. When humans arose from their quadrapetal ancestors, it became necessary to find an adaptive strategy that would allowed them to survive. After all, their prey was significantly larger than them (aka. Mastodon, mammoth, Athabascan bison, etc,). It took communications, community organization, and tools manufacturing to ring them down. Also the animals that preyed upon them were equally as large and daunting (cave bear, Smilodon, etc). Natural selection gave us a larger and abstract thinking brain, but its just one more tool in the lexicon of evolution of organisms on this planet.

Point three describes the rationalizations that humans use to elevate themselves above other species on the planet. It is fallaceous as a single virus can render the entire species extinct given the right adaptation and the right circumstances (which we are approaching given population, transportation,and sanitation).

Now on to dignity. I think all organism express dignity as long as they are maintaining their evolutionary fitness for their environment. When their adaptive strategies fail, they either adapt to new circumstances or go extinct. The dignity is their evolutionary success.

t1nick Level 8 Mar 10, 2019

I agree with everything you wrote - except the last paragraph: If evolutionary success is sufficient to have dignity, any tick or mouse has dignity too. Would that mean that killing a tick would be a crime, it would be murder, punishable as killing a human being ?
If your answer is No ("killing a human being is something different" ) - how do you justify this difference?


Maybe not justification as much as clarification. What does "dignity" mean in the context of the whole of humanity?

I mean we have a dictionary definition "the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect" but is everyone worthy of honor and respect? I've long advocated so, that I respect everyone regardless of the respect offered me (no so much "honor" as I reserve that for the special few that are outstanding). However, many have countered that they respect others only as much as they themselves are respected, a valid use of the golden rule.

So I think a personal clarification on what we mean by dignity and when we apply it is in order, though at the end of the day maybe that is semantically akin to a justification.



In most cases, I think i would opt for compassion as opposed to the arrogance that is entailed by the concept of dignity. One can apply it at the level of the individual, to a degree. However, viewing humans as quote "being worthy of honor or respect" is a risky proposition. Being "more special" than our fellow animal companions turned servants doesn't work out a good long term ending for this supposedly more intelligent species.

It's why we are where we are to being with. Were not a part of nature. We're beyond nature.
Well, that is until those occasional (but ever increasing) instances where nature slaps us back into ecological reality.

Mb_Man Level 6 Mar 11, 2019

Human Dignity is the unspoken innate right to be valued and respected. It has the quality of self-respect that is worthy of esteem. Dignity manifests as a comprehensiveness and the fullness of a person. It demands an unspoken innate right to be respected with ethical treatment. If human life is sacred then the human person is the underpinning of an ethical image for all of society. Humans are inherited with free and equal rights..." They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Robert08 Level 4 Mar 10, 2019

I wish more people thought the same as you!

@Freedompath Thank you

You just repeat the tenets of humanism, but that does not answer my question. You talk about "innate rights"? Well, on which chromosome do we find this ethical heritage?


I justify human dignity for the reason that I do not want to inhabit a world where human dignity is not justified. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and though I’m not a religious person, human rights is a topic where my views perhaps approach religiosity. I’m ok with that, as I believe that, if there is any teleology of ethics, the direction is towards recognition of dignity in all living things.

snthszr Level 2 Mar 10, 2019

You are on the right track with your remark about religiosity, because humanism is a kind of religion for people you have abandoned the traditional religions.
(See Yuval Harari's "Sapiens" for details of that view)


No, and it doesn't need to be justified. We just exist. We are not all that special, and our time is likely to be, in earth-time terms, brief and unremarkable.

I agree. Here is a litmus test for this stance: Does it make a difference to you if 50 wildebeests drown in a river during their annual migration, or 50 migrants drown while trying to migrate from, say, Africa to Europa?

@Matias Yes, because I am conditioned to value humans more than animals. I do have emotions. Having said that, all life on earth is life, and it all matters. None more than others. It is all just here, emergent from the primal goup, us, bacteria, all of it. At some future time, our species will not be well thought of. And deservedly so.


Firstly Sir, in your paragraph (1) you mis-stated that " God made man AND WOMAN in his own image."
According to the texts of the Goat-Herders Guide to the Galaxy, aka the bible, God CREATED only man, i.e. Adam, from the dust of the ground and LATER, from a rib taken from Adam he created woman, i.e. Eve, ergo God did NOT create both human genders in his own image, otherwise, and logically speaking, this God of the Abrahamic religions MUST have, to all intents and purposes, been Hermaphroditic in both nature and appearance to create 2 separate and entirely different, externally, genders in HIS own image.
Secondly, dignity is something that is DUE to ALL things living, including humans, and needs NO justification nor defining.

Triphid Level 8 Mar 10, 2019

Just to inform you: There are two stories in Genesis where the creation of the first humans is described. The one with the rib is the second story.
The first is in Gen. 1: 27: "So God created man [i.e. human being] in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

@Matias Yes, I know that there are 2 genesis myths in the Goat-herders Guide and, like everything else in that well over-rated book of myth, fiction and superstitious twaddle, they differ from one another.
However, you will find that most Fundie Faithfools will only ever cite from Genesis 1 since they seem completely unable to either read/see past that myth.
But, IF this book, actually a compendium of BOOKS, is, as is claimed, the WORD of God then why does it have 2 differing Creation stories in the first place?

@Triphid I just showed that that you were wrong when you accused me of mis-stating about "God created man and woman and made them in his own image". I did not claim that the Bible is god's word or that the two stories make sense.
The polemic was therefore completely unnecessary


Justification is sometimes something that bible believers want to get into. Fundies almost make it into a biblical doctrine. I get lost with ideas of how we need to be justified on something.

DenoPenno Level 8 Mar 10, 2019

Dignity has been defined as "the right to be valued and respected" and I would assume "human dignity" is an attempt to say every human is somehow entitled to said value and respect.

I would say that humans demonstrate that they have earned value and respect, both individually, and collectively. Or not. I regard it as a mistake to try to divine some inherent, automatic, inviolable dignity.

One could argue that, like all forms of respect, it might be best to afford some default level of value and respect until proven wrong, because it's usually wrong to assume that any given person is completely, irredeemably despicable. And one should be careful to judge someone as an exemplar of failed humanity. All that said, not everyone has covered themselves in glory, and some people deserve ignominy, censure, and ostracism -- a select few deserve to be hounded by it all their days.

I recognize that there's a danger here -- that there's a tendency to demonize and dehumanize people who don't deserve to be, because of some differentness or weakness. For example, I would not weep for Donald Trump if he were tarred and feathered, but at the same time, out of respect for the rule of law if not for Donald, he should be subject to the same evidence-based day in court as anyone else. And respect for the rule of law is respect for humanity as a collective, and then we're back to saying that this might rub off on even the worst of asshats a little bit.

mordant Level 8 Mar 10, 2019

Good reply! It shows that you are still struggling with the concept, unlike many others who just repeat well-known statements
Ii guess that you are aware that inherent, automatic, inviolable dignity is the basis and cornerstone of humanism?
Paragraph 1 of the German constitution even says: "The dignity of humans is inviolable". - I personally disagree because I thnk that dignity is something that is ascribed to those who have earned it in some way

@Matias Yes I am aware that these sentiments are abroad in the world but am not sure I can agree with them, though certainly, I resonate with them as ideals -- just not principles.


No I don't think it needs to be justified. For one we are animals, just highly developed ones. That's the justification right there. Our dignity is justified simply by our existence and evolution. Human dignity is a product of random evolutionary factors.

motrubl4u Level 7 Mar 10, 2019

If we are all animals and all animals have dignity, killing a mouse is as bad as killing a human being?
What if we say that we are all evolved animals, but nobody has any kind of dignity?


It is a matter of Pragmatism. Do unto others as you wish to be done unto you. Although Christians claim that concept, it appears in some form or another in all other religions but is also a non-religious pragmatic approach to the question.

dahermit Level 7 Mar 10, 2019

I'll take a second shot at this. Since I'm going to be cremated at death a theist working at a funeral home told me he preferred a death with dignity. I quickly informed him that death has no dignity.

DenoPenno Level 8 Mar 16, 2019


mongo1977 Level 5 Mar 15, 2019

Why does anything need to be justified . Just live your life and help as many people as you can


I don’t agree that our species merits any thoughts about “dignity,” given our behavior over the past 2 millennia since the rise of monotheism. It’s not “dignified” to kill and torture our own kind over trivialities. The early Byzantines, for example, killed each other over the burning question of whether the deity was one entity or 3. Since then, we have engaged in other activities such as The Crusades, The Inquisition and The Holocaust. Now we are flying airplanes into buildings to kill people by the thousands. Christians and Muslims have been fighting each other for 1500 years, not over which has the true god, but which has the true prophet of the god. Human oxymoron.

Azatheist Level 4 Mar 11, 2019

Because some people are selfish jerks who don't care about their fellow humans.



Maybe there should be some justification why anyone thinks people would be worth calling dignified.

Birds have nest, foxes have holes. Does everyone on Earth have the freedom to have their own well engineered and well built brick home, business and property built built by true masons free from mortgage free from rent free from taxation free from governmental terrorism and free from religious oppression to live good, peaceful, and joyful lives so they can hurry up and get their existance over with as if anyone wanted to exist in the first place, especially in this pathetic putrid, worthless, evil, wicked, greedy, selfish good for nothing chemical machines that only don't give a damn except to perpetuate their own chemical reactions thru their sense of pleasure and whats good for them and don't give a damn who or what the fuck over so long as they get their chemical brain ticking jollies.

Where is there free college and enjoying of access to the fullness of education for anyone that wants to know anything or everything to enjoy the greatness of the people animal to be capable of such knowledge and intelligent capabilities?

Where on Earth is there free medical assistance for anyone who needs any type of medical care free from any fees, free from any cost, and free from any indebtedness?

People wonder why soneone would write a concept that, "all has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God".

Why would there be any such dignified God, if one exists, want to be around such a pathetic creation as the human animal. Then, again it has been written, " And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." Genesis 6:6

Antifred Level 7 Mar 11, 2019

Ummm, because you feel as a white Male nobody else needs human dignity? How is this even a question????!


Yes, but simply because when we treat others with dignity and respect. most will act as though they deseerve it. And, if theydo act in such a manner, they do deserve it.

wordywalt Level 8 Mar 10, 2019

It's a great concept and if it were ever put in practice it might have glorious results. But, I'd argue, we're so many steps away from it as to render it impossible as anything but a pretty thought.

  • Why not give all life dignity (within reason)?
  • Jainists practice it in theory, or at least about as close as we've ever gotten
  • Among diginity's many enemies are Capitalism, religion, war, bigotry, neglect, guns, the denial of resources, and essentially any hierarchical system
Deiter Level 7 Mar 10, 2019

human dignity is not something that needs to be or can be justified.
some people have it others will never have it.

That is an interesting reply! Who do you have in mind when you say that "some people do not have dignity" ?

@Matias ,
very few politicians or business leaders have dignity b/c they've compromised whatever principles they once had.
i don't think that people with dignity can ever be successful in politics & retain that dignity.


Yes, and your definition on #2 fits the best to my perception. .

RaulPerez Level 7 Mar 10, 2019

None of the above.

Humans, with few exceptions, have feelings and emotions that can bring great joy or sorrow. We all recognize each other's feelings. Lets try to make the best of it for one another while we share this space together, and after we pass on. That's dignity.

And, animals do share these traits. Thus we ascribe humane treatment to them when we can. That's also dignity.

Do you think that human dignity is in need of justification?
Yes, and only to those who do not have appreciable human feelings.

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