BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (54) – What about dignity?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

Last time we spoke about our uniqueness, our individuality, our personhood. Scientific studies have shown that 99.99% of a person’s DNA is the same as that of other people, but the remaining .1% is unique to each one, even to identical twins (small mutations occur as they mature).

Each one’s uniqueness includes his being male or female. Biology tells us that the presence or absence of the “Y” chromosome determines whether an individual is male or female. In fact, the difference between men and women is not only biological, but also psychological and spiritual. This difference is of immense importance for the survival of the human race.

In the 6th century, the Roman scholar and Christian philosopher Boethius defined “person” as individua substantia rationalis naturae (“an individual substance of a rational nature”). Each man or woman is unique, unrepeatable, not only because each one has a specific set of DNA, but because his soul is unique. His spiritual soul is endowed with intellect and will which gives him the capacity and the right to self-determination: he can shape his own life, he can chart his future. From there arises his dignity.

Non-living things and non-rational beings do not have the capacity of self-determination: they don’t decide on what to do with their lives (that is, if they are alive!). They exist for the sake of something else, some higher function.

Human beings, on the other hand, exist for their own sake. This is why children should not be regarded as if they were pets to which one has a right or which one can choose or “design.” A man/woman does not seek a wife/husband not for his/her own sake (because she/he makes one happy, satisfies one’s desires, and is useful to one) but for her/his sake (because he/she wants the best for her/him). The other deserves to be treated as another self. Thus, we shouldn’t do to others what we would not like them to do to us (as Confucius and many ancient sages of Egypt, India, Greece, Persia taught), but rather treat them the way we would like them to treat us (cf Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31).

Human persons don’t exist for the sake of something else. They cannot be used. They possess rights which are universal, inviolable and inalienable.

(1) Universal: every human person, at any stage in his or her life, from the womb to the sickbed, whatever be the age, sex, race, belief, occupation, whether he or she be healthy or sick, rich or poor, enjoys these rights.

(2) Inviolable: these rights stem from the fact of being a human person; they are not granted by another.

(3) Inalienable: no one can lawfully deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to the person’s nature.

What are these rights?

The most basic human right is the right to life: it is a right enjoyed even by the unborn and also the dying. Other important human rights include the right to freedom of opinion, the right to earn a living for oneself and for one’s family; the right to marry and start a family, and to raise them personally; and the right to choose and practice a religion freely; the right of association and participation.

Everyone has a duty to respect the dignity of every single human person. Everyone has a duty to uphold and defend human rights

Featured image: MabelAmber in Pixabay

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