The dignity of the human person is the foundation of our Republic (1st article, III, Federal Constitution). The term, however, has been used indiscriminately and without adequate delimitation. In this way, there is a risk of trivializing the concept and relativizing its meaning.
The dignity of the human person can be understood in a simple and abstract way, without predetermined content (as described in the Constitution — “The Federative Republic of Brazil, formed by the indissoluble union of States and Municipalities and the Federal District, constitutes a Democratic State of Right and is based on: (…) III – the dignity of the human person; (…) — and thus its meaning can be modified and shaped without any restriction. It would be subject to variation according to the will of those who determine its use (those who exercise power).
The term can also be understood from a philosophical perspective, and then we would have a greater possibility of reflecting on the origin of the principle, its historical position and evolution according to different currents of thought and with the necessary reflection on the origin and purpose of man.
However, there would still be a certain degree of uncertainty and difficulty with the correct description and understanding of the term. There are several philosophical explanations for the origin and ultimate end of man, and not all of them are compatible with each other.
Finally, one can seek theological source for understanding the dignity of the human person. Our Constitution allows the use of this interpretative source. By mentioning God in its preamble (introductory part of the Constitution), and doing so with a capital letter, the Constitution makes it clear that, despite being secular and plural, our system is informed by Christian values, that is, it was built from them.
Thus, the dignity of the human person can be understood as the inherent value of the individual created in the image and likeness of God (Book of Genesis — chap. 1, v. 27). But to what extent would God (the same God mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution of 1988) have transferred to man the dignity that is intrinsic to him?
One of the possible answers is in the first revelation that God made of himself to men: “I Am He that I Am” (Book of Exodus — chap. 3, v. 14). Being the One who Is implies that no one else can be God; he is unique and irreplaceable — unrepeatable.
Thus, each one of the men, insofar as they are the image and likeness of God, are also what they are: unique, irreplaceable and unrepeatable. No one has ever been, is not and never will be like me, and this reasoning applies to every reader of this text.
Just as one in a hundred sheep is irreplaceable to the point of being worth as much as the rest as a whole (Luke, chap. 15, v. 7), the individuality of man cannot be measured by numbers, by collective groupings, but is intrinsic to the its very existence is worth it. After all, “God loves each of us with an infinite love, a love that could not be more direct and personal if we were the only soul on Earth” (TRESE, 2021, p. 126).
Every action aimed at objectifying man, therefore, hurts his dignity. The collectivization of being (making it an instrument of a power structure — whatever it may be), with the disregard of its individuality, is the root of the violation of human dignity. To harm the fundamental value of human dignity is to harm man in his individuality, in what only he is or can be. In this way, the understanding of the fundamental principle of our Republic becomes clearer.
1 — BÍBLIA SAGRADA. Tradução Oficial da CNBB. 3ª Edição. 2019;
2 — BRASIL. Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil. 1988;
3 — TRESE, Leo J. A fé explicada. 15ª Edição — São Paulo: Quadrante, 2021.