Human dignity

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Animal & Human Rights

Human dignity is an expression that can be used as a moral concept or as a legal term. Sometimes it means no more than that human beings should not be treated as objects. Beyond this, it is meant to convey an idea of absolute and inherent worth that does not need to be acquired and cannot be lost or sold. In Immanuel Kant's philosophy, the claim is made that rational beings have an intrinsic and absolute value, which is referred to as dignity.

The idea is in some ways controversial, mainly in regard to the question of whether it also applies to human embryos or non-human beings and if not, why. Utilitarian philosophers see a conflict with their principle of equal consideration of interests, and sometimes the idea is criticised as an example of speciesism.

German constitution

Human dignity features as a core principle in the German constitution. Article 1, paragraph 1 reads: "Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and to protect it is the duty of all state authority." Human dignity is thus mentioned even before the right to life. This has a significant impact on German law-making and jurisdiction in both serious and trivial items:

  • It is the base of § 131 StGB, which outlaws representation of violence in certain cases and was the grounds for the confiscation of many horror movies and some video games like Manhunt or the Mortal Kombat series.
  • § 14 (3) of the Luftsicherheitsgesetz, which would have allowed the Bundeswehr to shoot down airliners if they are used as weapons by terrorists, was declared unconstitutional mainly on the grounds of human dignity.
  • A Benetton advertisement showing human buttocks with an " H.I.V. positive" stamp was declared in violation of human dignity by some courts, but in the end found legal.
  • The first German law legalizing abortion in 1975 was declared unconstitutional because the court held that embryos had human dignity, too.
  • In a decision from 1981- 12-15, the Bundesverwaltungsgericht declared that peepshows violated the human dignity of the performer, regardless of her personal feelings. The decision was later revised.
Retrieved from ""