, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 937-944
Date: 27 Mar 2012

The varieties of human dignity: a logical and conceptual analysis


The word ‘dignity’ is used in a variety of ways in bioethics, and this ambiguity has led some to argue that the term must be expunged from the bioethical lexicon. Such a judgment is far too hasty, however. In this article, the various uses of the word are classified into three serviceable categories: intrinsic, attributed, and inflorescent dignity. It is then demonstrated that, logically and linguistically, the attributed and inflorescent meanings of the word presuppose the intrinsic meaning. Thus, one cannot conclude that these meanings are arbitrary and unrelated. This categorization and logical and linguistic analysis helps to unravel what seem to be contradictions in discourse about dignity and bioethics, and provides a hierarchy of meaning that has potential normative implications.