“What is man that you are mindful of him, human beings that you should care for them?”
This question, asked by the Psalmist, is the same question philosophers have been asking one another for millennia after millennia: What makes us different from the rest of creation? What does it mean to be human?
For Aristotle, man is social or political in nature. For Blaise Pascal, the answer was man’s intellect. He said, “Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed”. And according to Pico Della Mirandola, the author of Oration on the Dignity of Man, man’s distinctive feature is his volition. While Immanuel Kant ascribed man’s uniqueness to our moral nature.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) offers that to be human is to have an innate dignity that gives us an irreducible moral worth – a worth that makes all human individuals fundamentally equal to one another and distinct from other forms of life. The first part recognizes that to be human, one must have inherent dignity, while the second part upholds equal and inalienable rights of all members of society. Obviously, these are the foundation of peace, justice and freedom in the world.
Philosophers have debated that man is different from plants and animals by using acceptable experiments to support their arguments. But UDHR’s claim stated categorically that man’s nature has moral consequences. That is, man’s nature is neither philosophical nor academic.
Kant claimed that all persons have dignity by virtue of being moral beings – and humans alone are moral beings. He affirmed, in his works, that human dignity has ethical implications. Perhaps this is why the UDHR uses our dignity to condemn the pointless killing of man the world has so endured painfully, with events like the two brutal world wars, the Holocaust, rape and others, some still unknown. The world has been ravaged by human’s cruelty against itself.
As we lose the victims who lived through those dark moments, we become unconcerned about things like human dignity. Ethical evolution expects that we remember human tragedy – which is why it is important to study and reflect the War To End All Wars and other barbarity.
Human dignity matters. We should feel the same amount of concern for those in places like Japan, China – who suffer from landslide and earthquake – which we do for our own disturbance. As a descriptive matter, disregarding the value of the lives of those who are different or distant from us should never be heard of us.
In the Book of Genesis, the Bible tells us that God created man “in His own image”- Imago dei. Man was created in the image of God and this distinctly separates him from the rest of the life on earth, giving him a moral worth.