Human Dignity: Philosophical Origin and Scientific Erosion of an Idea

  • Kurt Bayertz
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 52)


The concept of a specifically human dignity is one of the fundamental philosophical innovations of the Renaissance. Parallel to the emergence of the portrait as an independent artistic genre within the field of painting and the autobiography as a new literary genre, a comprehensive series of writings on the dignitas hominis by Petrarca, Giannozzo Manetti and Pico della Mirandola grew to the dimensions of an independent literary genre. These works of art, literature and philosophy lent expression to that new, human self-understanding which was to become fundamental to the Modern Age. Of course, the concept of human dignity did not emerge as a creatio ex nihilo: it is rooted in Ancient philosophy, as well as in Christian theology. In Ancient times, the concept of dignity usually referred to respect for individuals with a high social status: a Greek king or a Roman senator, for example. It was the Stoics who first developed the idea of a dignity attributable to the human being per se, i.e. independently of individual characteristics. In Cicero’s writings, we find both interpretations side by side. Christianity picked up on the second meaning and interpreted the dignity of all human beings theologically: the latter’s origins may be attributed to the special position which the human being assumes within creation as imago dei. Human dignity is viewed here as reflecting the dignity of God.


Human Nature Human Dignity Technological Control Human Race Human Subjectivity 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt Bayertz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MünsterGermany

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