Dignity is a characteristic of a person from the point of view of his inner value, conformity to his own destiny. In principle, these are historically early concepts of dignity, tied to the social status of a person (the higher the dignity, the higher the status). The use in post-traditional societies to denote the dignity of the phrase “inner nobility” indicates that dignity begins to denote nobility, distinct from a hierarchically high origin or position. Dignity as a moral concept (“universal dignity”, according to I. Kant) characterizes the individual as a person: the dignity of a person is determined not by his origin, wealth, education or social status, but by his inherent freedom as an individual person and citizen. According to Kant, dignity, which is the basis of will, is opposed to any other practical motives, in particular, self-serving. Self-worth of dignity is certified by the fact that it, unlike the price, does not have an equivalent; as “intrinsic value” it has to do with not inclination and need, but with taste.
The concept of dignity as a universal characteristic can have a different degree of generalization. An individual can be recognized as worthy:
- corresponding to the conception of the supreme destiny of man (such is the general humanistic image of dignity, which is already formed in antiquity, clearly expressed in Aristotle, Epicurus, Stoics);
- simply as such, i.e. (in Christianity, human dignity is associated with the fact that it originally contains the image of God.) In the Kantian doctrine, respect for the other is due to the fact that the other is recognized as a subject of legislative will);
- as a person performing his duties and meeting the reasonable expectations of others in specific human relationships.
Differences in interpretations indicate that dignity, unlike merit (these concepts are often used as synonyms) is not only an appraisal, but also an imperative concept: a person is prescribed to be worthy. A person, who is unable to meet this imperative and meet expectations or does not understand what is expected of him, is pitiful, and not willing to conform is despicable. This dignity differs from merit, which is imputed to a person in recognition of his achievements, success in any field; through the recognition of merit, the value of man in comparison with other people is affirmed, and man is seen as a means for achieving higher goals, which act as a criterion or measure of merit. Absolutization of this attitude toward man leads to the perception of it as a “cog”.
In the subjective sense, dignity as a sense of self-esteem lies in the person’s sense of self-worth. So understood dignity, unlike illusions of conceit, is based on the fact that a person has a rational and realistic life plan, is confident in his own abilities and understands that his personality and his deeds are approved (“appreciated”) by the people he respects (J. Rawls). Since a person retains a sense of importance, provided that others approve of his actions (that is, he feels important to the extent that what he has done is admired by others or meets their needs and interests), in some cases people can try to realize their need in dignity on the basis of conformist strategies of behavior, which, obviously, contradict the moral meaning of the notion of dignity.