Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 937-944

The varieties of human dignity: a logical and conceptual analysis

  • Daniel P. SulmasyAffiliated withKilbride-Clinton Professor of Medicine and Ethics, Department of Medicine and Divinity School, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago Email author 


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.


Dignity Ethics Bioethics Logic Linguistics Philosophy