HEC Forum

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 249–263 | Cite as

Human Value, Dignity, and the Presence of Others

  • Jill Graper HernandezEmail author


In the health care professions, the meaning of—and implications for—‘dignity’ and ‘value’ are progressively more important, as scholars and practitioners increasingly have to make value judgments when making care decisions. This paper looks at the various arguments for competing sources of human value that medical professionals can consider—human rights, autonomy, and a higher-order moral value—and settles upon a foundational model that is related to (though distinct from) the Kantian model that is popular within the medical community: human value is foundational; human dignity, autonomy, and rights derive from the relational quality of human dignity. Moral dignity is expressed though the relationships we cultivate, the communal ends we pursue, and the rights we enjoy. Correlatively, human dignity is inseparable from its ground (i.e., morality), and the relationship between these two is best represented for Kant in the humanities formulation. The foundational model of dignity ensures that human value is non-circularly derived, but is ultimately tied to expressions of individual human dignity that comes from the dignity of morality. Linking Kant’s dignity of humanity to the dignity of morality affords a unique and efficacious response to the discussion of human value. In one sense, dignity is amplificatory, since its worth is inextricable with that of autonomy and the rights afforded to the autonomous. But that isn’t to say that the worth of dignity is merely amplificatory. Rather, human dignity indicates the absolute inner value (MM 6:435) found in each individual in virtue of being human (MM 6:435, 462). That inner worth engenders certain universal rights—derivable from the dignity and fundamental rational appeal of morality—just as it provides for the possibility for a community of beings to seek to live the moral life.


Human value Human dignity Moral dignity Immanuel Kant Presence Bioethics Healthcare ethics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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