Dignity as an object of ethical reflection

“Searchin’ high, searchin’ low

Searchin’ everywhere I know

Askin’ the cops wherever I go

Have you seen dignity”.[i]

(Bob Dylan, Dignity, 1989).

Dignity is a word known to all, and often quoted in various subjects, that is, it is a common word; this understood notion ends up not encouraging us to understand it, or think about it, in relation to the other. What really leads us to have dignity? And when we care about the dignity of others, that is, when we recognize the other as worthy?

To remember a little what dictionaries inform about dignity, follow some meanings: to be worthy of something, to be worthy of respect, to have honesty, to have integrity, respectability and decency, among many other adjectives. It is also the word that derives from the Latin dignitate, which in turn means honor and virtue; therefore, it refers to the moral integrity of a person. It is also said that having dignity is the quality of being. It is what imposes, or at least inspires, respect, self-love, panache.

With so many meanings, with so much importance for the good to live, it is almost impossible to think that dignity may not be present in ethical theories. With the philosophers Kant and Aristotle as references, we sought to better understand the question of dignity, going beyond its meaning as a word.

Kant refers to it as an inseparable quality to the human being, that is, it is something intrinsic to human nature, it is ininthe. The man himself is worthy, has respect. A person does not grant dignity to another person, he already owns it. It is up to the other is to accept, or understand, that the other person also has dignity. Kant always directs objectivity, reasoning, consciousness, and understanding as a universal law, that is, it refers actions to the construction of the categorical imperative. 

A well-known phrase from Aristotle is that “dignity is not to possess honors, but to deserve them.” For him dignity is a virtue, a balanced action; for as dignity is an exercise of self-love in exceeding it becomes pride. It is easy to transpose the dividing line, it is easy to exceed us in self-respect and panache.

For Aristotle, dignity is a practice, a virtue that can be conquered by developing good habits of conduct, by dislinking from vices and seeking well-being.

It does not seem difficult to agree that one seeks to live with dignity, that each individual desires the other to allow him to feel worthy and honored. So, in the case of dignity, you take a life with honesty, integrity and all the other adjectives already mentioned. It requires, through actions, recognition and merit in being worthy of something.

But do we allow the other to maintain or develop his dignity? Do we care about allowing the other to live with honor and moral integrity? Put another way, do you recognize the other as worthy?

What actions do we perform that allow others to exercise their dignity? What treatment do we give to those around us?

If there is a awareness of what needs to be done to live with dignity, if it is implicit in the human being, is it also not known what to do to diminish the dignity of others by not recognizing it?

This reflection does not bring answers, these are within each one: in actions, beliefs and interests. What was sought was to demonstrate the meaning of dignity in philosophical terms, and in relation to the definition itself in the Portuguese language.

It can be summed up by saying that Kant defends it as inherent to the human being, it is of his nature, he will need only his own consciousness. The person will decide whether to act in a dignified manner or not. Aristotle sees it as a construction of character, where the recognition of being worthy is external, there is the recognition of the other as worthy

Dignity has already been addressed in previous posts, analyzed in its Constitutional, and theological meaning, here it is complemented with the philosophical approach.

“So many roads, so much at stake

Too many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake

Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity” [i]

“So many roads, so much at stake

Too many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake

Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take

To find dignity” [i]


Dignidade. Michaelis: dicionário brasileiro da língua portuguesa. Disponível em:   ttps://michaelis.uol.com.br/moderno-portugues/busca/portugues-brasileiro/dignidade/. Acesso em: 09 set. 2022.

Dignidade. Dicionário Informal. Disponível em: https://www.dicionarioinformal.com.br/dignidade/. Acesso em: 09 set. 2022.

QUEIROZ, Victor Santos. A dignidade da pessoa humana no pensamento de Kant. Jus.com.br. Disponível em: https://jus.com.br/artigos/7069/a-dignidade-da-pessoa-humana-no-pensamento-de-kant/3. Acesso em: 12 set. 2022.

[i] “Procurando aqui e ali, procurando em todos os lugares que conheço, perguntando aos tiras onde quer que eu vá, ‘você viu a dignidade’?”

[ii] “Tantas estradas, tanto em jogo, tantos becos sem saída, estou na beira do lago. Às vezes eu imagino o que é preciso para encontrar dignidade”.

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