Around 6 million years ago, the earliest ancestors of the Homo sapiens family used to roam the lands of Earth. The members of the Homo sapiens family have evolved to be referred to as Humans. The modern form of humans only traces back to about two hundred thousands years ago. Indicating the clear fact that human life has been on this Earth for a very long time. Human beings have evolved to become species with the conscience and intellectual ability to think, perceive, and act both physically and emotionally, allowing them to have a moral and ethical compass. Such abilities create a higher meaning given to the human species, sprouting the seed of human dignity. Defining human dignity is a complex process as it involves, not one simple definition, but more of an understanding. Human dignity, in it’s core, acknowledges humanity being the highest species in the animal kingdom thus claiming that every member is to be treated of high worth. Dignity creates an intrinsic human value that arises from humans existing as sentient beings. Furthermore, the basic propositions that compose the concept of human dignity hold true that all individual members of the human species are equal and no other species is equal to humanity. This concept of dignity recognizes three components; “the proper identity of individual or species; recognizing what a person is in relation to all other persons and what the species is in relation to all other species”, these components constitute such high standards.
Humans are social and dependent creatures, allowing them to convey this idea of dignity universally. Many social processes and occurrences are connected with human rights today. They are studied and spoken about from the widest and most varied positions. Human rights reveal their presence in almost every sphere of human activity, which are a complex multidimensional phenomenon. Human rights simply defined according to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner claims, “human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.” These rights universally acknowledge a standard for the treatment of humans. Furthermore, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a document composed after the horrendous acts that occurred during World War II. The maltreatment of humans in the Holocaust led the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10th, 1948 to proclaim a common standard that states fundamental human rights that oblige the world to universally protect such rights as proposed in the preamble and 30 articles. Any violations of persons basic humans rights is an indication of an inhumane act and can lead to severe consequences.
The two, human dignity and human rights, on their own might seem subjective, however these two concepts are intertwined with one another, for it is safe to state that human rights would not exist without human dignity. Human dignity is the core value that a person gives himself or herself. In simpler terms it is applying a worth to their human self. On the other hand, human rights are the rights naturally due to people through integrity of their humanity. Thus, the aim of the essay is to discuss the contribution of human dignity to the human rights theory by studying the essence of the concept of human dignity, its core values, the capability approach, and as well as the conception of the human dignity from a legal, moral, and political standpoint. Finally, the essay includes the discussion of human dignity as the ‘rights to have rights’ concept and the ‘indivisibility of rights’ concept. It is expected to conclude that human dignity is better understood as defending the ‘indivisibility of rights’ concept while it can also apply to the ‘right to have rights’ concept but yields a major drawback in the latter concept.
The Contribution of Human Dignity to Human Rights Theory
The discussions about human value and worth have been going on for centuries, since early as Socratinian time. Many philosophers have placed importance on human dignity and human rights, however surprising it took the world generations of genocides, slavery, world wars, and all the inhumane acts only to realize in the mid 20th century that the a certain set of rights should be placed to enact protection upon the dignity of human beings. For one to understand the human rights that are owed to members of the human family, the concept of human dignity needs to be unfolded in the aspect as it relates to human rights.
Dignity, as mentioned earlier, is given life through the element that, the Homo sapiens species is a sentient being. Human’s ability of being self-aware, perceive, feel, and think allows them to wrestle with intricate external notions such as the one being tackled in this very essay. On the other hand, human rights arise naturally from us being humans, like stated before in this discussion, the standards set are based solely on the fact of being a member of the human family. For human rights to prosper, a person must first achieve dignity. Derived from an Aristotelian philosophy, the Capability Approach articulated by an Indian philosopher Amartya Sen expressed the simple idea that for humans to achieve the essential value embedded in dignity, there is a need of capabilities that are required to be met. Further adding that any concept, idea, notion, and act that aids in the necessity of ensuring such capabilities are met, than those are in definition referred to as rights. The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum further refined this approach; she developed the theory in a justice framework with the motivation of human dignity behind it. Nussbaum is credited for establishing a list of 10 human capabilities known as The Central Human Capabilities, which define the requirements for human dignity. For example, the fourth capability she lists is
“Senses, Imagination, and Thought. Being able to use the senses, to imagine, think, and reason – and to do these things in a ”truly human” way, a way informed and cultivated by an adequate education, including, but by no means limited to, literacy and basic mathematical and scientific training. Being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth. Being able to use one’s mind in ways protected by guarantees of freedom of expression with respect to both political and artistic speech, and freedom of religious exercise. Being able to have pleasurable experiences and to avoid non-beneficial pain”.
The claim that she puts forth is that these capabilities act as principles for specifying the minimum obligations that the global institutions need to abide by when sanctioning a value to humans. The capabilities that she lists give value to humans, they define elaborately the worth of human beings in return upholding ones dignity. She goes even further to explain that lacking in these capabilities does not connote that, that person has no dignity because there are external circumstances and the freedom of choice that alter these capabilities. With the dignity of human beings recognized, this approach evolves into becoming a right for humans. The acts that guarantee these capabilities than in return become rights. For example, one way the dignity of a person is measured is through there capability of being able to use their mind freely, this allows one to come up with a worth for oneself. The ability of free expression is than given high value in that context; therefore it should be protected, which is done by making free expression a human right because of its natural nature. Thus, the subjective nature of dignity translates into universally empirical right. The capability approach enhances the notion of human dignity contributing to human rights theory.
The mere idea presented here, that human dignity contributes to human rights theory evidently exhibited through the capability approach ties into the impression claims by, Dr. Kebadu Mekonnen Gebremariam in his work, “Human Dignity and Moral Rights”. His work discusses about human dignity to a point where it proves the essential aspect of human dignity to human rights. Gebremariam mentions that “some conceptions of human dignity have emphatically claimed that dignity is a status that comprises a given set of rights; regarded as a status, human dignity also provides the rationale for how the various rights, duties, and so on hang together, i.e., the underlying coherence of the package”. Dr. Gebremariam successfully attempts to claim that human dignity provides a foundation to some the human rights, delivering a notion that dignity exists within the rights. The idea draws from Jeremy Waldron’s ‘Is Dignity the Foundation of Human Rights?’ in which Waldron presents “four possible accounts of what it might mean to say that one concept, ?, is a foundation of another concept, ?”. He lists that human dignity contributes to human rights such that; human rights is consequential of human dignity through a historical and genealogical basis; dignity provides a validation source for human rights claims; through empirical premises or logical agreement one is capable of deriving human rights from human dignity; and lastly the concept of understanding human rights is embedded within the foundations of human dignity. Waldron places emphasizes on the third account for the contribution of human dignity to human rights. The third account as Waldron claims highlights logical derivation being the core for the relation between the two. He expresses that “analytic unpacking of propositions about human rights claims and then augment it with an empirical premise (possibly about the kind of conditions necessary for human beings to lead a truly dignified life)” will reveal the connection of human rights as derived from human dignity. The idea is that there are three levels of universal rights, which are namely, autonomy, liberty and welfare rights. For example, the value of autonomy arises from the “ability to determine for oneself what it means to have a worthwhile life and actually lead one’s life accordingly”, therefore, providing the sense of dignity to that individual. From this value of autonomy, Waldron claims “one ought to have minimal liberty over certain areas of one’s life”, thus providing the human right that one should have. This evidential provides an outlook to how human rights are derived from human dignity.
Modern scientific knowledge of human dignity is formed in conditions of a rapid historical development and an active participation in the political processes of broad sections of the population on the entire planet. At the same time, the idea of human dignity, being an indisputable universal human value, as a rule, gives content to the whole system of human rights. Generally, the rule of law is not only a theoretical construction but also a practical organisation of political power and ensuring human rights, which assumes the functioning of civil society and a market economy. This is a state that proceeds from the principles of law required by such a society and economy, in the formation of laws and the exercise of other functions.
Human Dignity from the Legal Standpoint
The idea of human dignity in a rule-of-law state primarily acts in the form of the legal equality of all its citizens, regardless of property status, race, religion, and other qualities. At the same time, it is embodied in all the rights of man and citizen, embodied here in law. The idea of human dignity in different legal states is understood in jurisprudence ambiguously. Of course, the interpretations of human rights in the states under consideration are also unequal in content. Moreover, in each individual country, among the legal states, lawyers and government experts disagree about the content of the idea of human dignity and its embodiment in the legal rights of a person.
Waldron’s second account presented that human dignity is a validation source for human rights. Therefore, to legitimize human dignity from a legal standpoint Waldron addresses that in that case human dignity be perceived as a juridical idea. He describes the relationship between human dignity and human rights to the concept that Hans Kelsen developed, known as Grundnorm. The idea is that “norms at one level are legitimized by norms at a higher level in the legal system, must ultimately be tied together by a supra-positive norm”. In this case it would apply to human dignity being norms at a higher level that legitimize human rights, norms at one level.
Human Dignity from the Moral Standpoint
When assessing the concept of human dignity as it applies to human rights, the moral standpoint takes upon a differently approach from a legal one. Jürgen Habermas claims with a moral appeal that human rights are the consequential form of positive law resulted from “specific violations of human dignity presumably referring to the Holocaust, and can therefore be conceived as specifications of human dignity—their moral source.” This idea is constitutes that dignity indeed validates human rights when agreeing that human dignity is a moral source.
The human dignity is an assessment from the point of view of humanity, which is its general purpose. Self-esteem is based on the recognition of fundamental moral equality with other people. Every individual has dignity already because he/she is a person. Dignity is treated, as a natural human right to respect for one’s self and inherent in it from birth. Thus, the UK authorities decided in favour of McDonald in the case McDonald v United Kingdom who had suffered from the disease and claimed for the household allowances due to the disability. McDonald had the right to request for the discount to support her dignity as she had problems at that moment explained by a reasonable circumstances and vital necessity.
Human Dignity from the Political Standpoint
From the political standpoint, dignity serves as the basis for inalienable human rights and freedoms, the legal system, and statehood as a whole. The idea of the dignity of the individual, his provision at the constitutional level, is elevated to the rank of the general legal principle. Human dignity reflects the moral value of the individual, as well as represents a public and individual assessment of the moral qualities and actions of individuals. The basis of the legal status of the individual is the idea of dignity, and the fundamental principle of legal protection as a means of ensuring the social and legal protection of the individual is the principle of ensuring the dignity of the individual. Additionally, the concept of the human dignity emphasizes the importance of personality as a representative of the human race. After all, a person has the dignity of a moral subject regardless of social belonging, which must be supported by himself and be present in the public evaluation of his personality.
The Indivisibility of Rights
Human dignity is the better understood as a defender for the indivisibility of rights. To begin with, it is important to indicate that there are three key components of human rights, which are that they are universal and inalienable; indivisible; interdependent and interrelated. The universal and inalienable aspects of human rights indicate that they apply to every human member since every human has a birth and that solely is the determining factor. The race, gender, ethnicity, cultural, religion, and living place do not matter. The inalienable aspect protects the human’s rights as no one can take the rights away from any human being. As for indivisibility, this aspects claims human rights are indivisible regardless of whether they are associated with civil, cultural, economic, political, or social issues. Indivisibility of human rights indicates that all rights have equal status therefore cannot be presented in a hierarchical system.
Therefore, it is safe to say that human rights are also inherent to human dignity. These facts alone claim that human dignity is best understood as a defender of the indivisibility of rights because if human rights are inherent to human dignity than that means that they cannot be separated from each other. James Nickel proposed that “system-wide indivisibility might be defended on the grounds that if all human rights are derived from a single value, such as human dignity”, essentially the message being conveyed here is that human dignity acts has the foundation for human rights. The embedding of human rights in human dignity creates an inseparable bond. Since human dignity is an intrinsically equal value for all humans have it, than in such a case human dignity is the key component protecting the indivisibility of rights.
This notion of human dignity providing defence for human rights is better understood through the case of J.M. v The psychiatric hospital in Bohnice Czech Republic. The violations of the patient’s human rights led to the claim of not being treated with dignity and eventually insufficient supervision resulted in death. The outcome of the case stated, “all people are equal in dignity and that dignity of everybody is protected without discrimination. Therefore protection of dignity of any mentally disordered person cannot be any different from protection of this right of any other person.” Evidently, this claim justifies that the internal value dignity provides, at its core, is the same within all humans. Since the hospital violated the right of the patient’s health, the indivisibility of rights led to affecting the patients right to life. In return the patient is not treated with dignity, meaning they are not treated as a human being. This directly disregards the inviolability right has the patients right to health was taken away therefore damaging and stripping the patient of their dignity.
On the other hand, it is very possible to understand human dignity as the right to have rights as well. As Hannah Arendt expresses “something much more fundamental than freedom and justice, which are rights of citizens, is at stake when belonging to a community into which one is born is no longer a matter of course and not belonging no longer a matter of choice”. She explains that the human dignity is at the fundamental base, which gets violated when people are deprived of their rights. She claims that under a totalitarianism framework, the deprivation of rights is evident “not of the right to freedom, but of the right to action”, creating a panopticon world for one to be living under. Michel Foucault elaborates on this idea with his approach of confronting governments. This notion supports that human dignity creates the initial right to have all other rights. However, the only issue that arises in this case is that rights are laws created by humans themselves and if all humans are equal than giving the humans that create such rights gives them an authoritative position therefore violating the equality state.
Thus, it would be better understood that human dignity defending the indivisibility of rights rather than the right to have rights. Under the former, human dignity is considered the core foundation in which human rights are embedded. This cementation allows for equality to be a mandatory component and since all humans are equal than the rights allotted cannot be ranked in an ordered system, they must be equal throughout. In the latter, human dignity as the right to have rights works because human dignity becomes the element that translates into the initial right to have all other rights, but to this initial right must be legally articulated which causes a discrepancy in the equality component of human dignity.
In conclusion, human dignity and human rights are linked to one another where in principle human dignity precedes human rights. The value and worth that is placed on humans is the reason behind the creation of humanity from which the flourish of human rights sprouts to provide protection of human beings. At its fundamental core, human dignity is the soul and human rights is the body, the soul contributes to the body by giving it life and in return the body protects the soul from getting damage. This is true for all members of the human family since human dignity provides equality on all grounds based solely due to the fact that one is born as a human species. Finally, the essence of human dignity is better understood as defending the indivisibility of rights as to being the right to have rights. Under this belief, human dignity being the fundamental core acts as the protection of equality of all human rights therefore justifying its precedence before human rights. Finally to finish off, the prevalent contribution of human dignity to human rights concludes that without the intrinsic value place upon humans through dignity, there would no be the foundation to support any human rights because they would lack the value.