>Reader “Jimmy” made a comment dissagreeing with my definition of “human dignity” in my 10/20/05 post. Here’s that definition:
Humans are the only species debating “dignity” and “rights,” so all of our children, out of respect for the dignity of the species, are deserving of being treated with the “Golden Rule,” as though they have “human dignity.”
I know there was some circularity in that definition, and it needs some work before I publish my book (grin). But, I still like the idea that human dignity is whatever it is that makes humans treat one another according to the Golden Rule. I would probably add that part of the Golden Rule – beneficience – is the Silver Rule or non-maleficence. “Do to others what you would have them do to you” – or, to put it another way, “Do good to others, but first, do no harm.”
It’s pretty significant, I believe, that humans are the only species capable of art,intentionally recorded history, and purposeful manipulation of our environment and each other. We have empathy for our fellow humans and even for non-humans. There must be some reason beyond shear power for us to reason rather than use what ever power we can muster against our neighbors.
What will we call this “something”? How will we explain to our children why they’re not allowed to take whatever they want from the other kids if they’re able, or hit the other kids, or (to borrow the Kantian language that Jimmy mentioned) use other human beings as means to our ends? For that matter, why not torture animals – why not pull the legs off grasshoppers? Why not use up all the natural resources today, and forget about tomorrow?
“I want” is not sufficient to explain any of these observations, and I don’t believe that “I’m afraid,” is any better. There is more than these in the way we nurture not only our own children, but we have concern for victims of Katrina and the sunami victims on the other side of the world.
That “something” is human dignity – or what gives human dignity its function for the protection of others and our environment.
And, yes, Jimmy, I would universalize human dignity.