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Legal Dictionary

dignity

Definition of dignity

Etymology

    From Middle English dignitee < Old French dignite < Latin dignitas ("worthiness, merit, dignity, grandeur, authority, rank, office") < dignus ("worthy, appropriate"), probably akin to decus ("honor, esteem") and decet ("it is fitting").

Pronunciation

Noun

dignity (plural dignities)

  1. A quality or state worthy of esteem and respect, especially humanness, but also, for example, augustness, nobility, majesty, grandeur, glory, superiority, wonderfulness

    * 1752, Henry Fielding, Amelia, I. viii
    He uttered this ... with great majesty, or, as he called it, dignity.

    * 1981, African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, art. 5
    Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being.

    * 2008, Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH) [Switzerland]
    'The dignity of living beings with regard to plants: Moral consideration of plants for their own sake', 3: ... the ECNH has been expected to make proposals from an ethical perspective to concretise the constitutional term dignity of living beings with regard to plants.

  2. decorum, formality, stateliness;

    * 1934, Aldous Huxley, "Puerto Barrios", in Beyond the Mexique Bay:
    Official DIGNITY tends to increase in inverse ratio to the importance of the country in which the office is held.

  3. high office or rank;

    * 1781, Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, F. III. 231:
    He ... distributed the civil and military dignities among his favourites and followers.

Synonyms

  • worth
  • worthiness

Related terms

  • dignified
  • dignify

Further reading

Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to respect and ethical treatment. It is an extension of Enlightenment-era beliefs that individuals have inherent, inviolable rights, and thus is closely related to concepts like virtue, respect, self-respect, autonomy, human rights, and enlightened reason. Dignity is generally proscriptive and cautionary: in politics it is usually synonymous to 'human dignity', and is used to critique the treatment of oppressed and vulnerable groups and peoples, though in some case has been extended to apply to cultures and sub-cultures, religious beliefs and ideals, animals used for food or research, and even plants. In more colloquial settings it is used to suggest that someone is not receiving a proper degree of respect, or even that they are failing to treat themselves with proper self-respect.

While dignity is a term with a long philosophical history, it is rarely defined outright in political, legal, and scientific discussions. International proclamations have thus far left dignity undefined, and scientific commentators, such as those arguing against genetic research and algeny, cite dignity as a reason but are ambiguous about its application.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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