Fernando Schwarz -D. I. Instituto Hermes

“The modern way of living stuns consciousness and weakens will, because it stimulates the excess of the senses and gets the personality used to constantly paying attention to the external world calls.” 1)Monographic work presented in the General Assembly of the OINA in 2008. As an effect, no inner discipline is proposed to discern between the illusions and vanities that are showed and what is essential and renovating.

The everyday philosophical practice forces us to face, in ourselves, with the dependence, mechanicity, comfort, submission, cowardice and ignorance. These are the most frequent obstacles that interfere our daily evolution or as when we want to be ourselves.

One of the keys to reach oneself, understand our own identity, develop a life in full consciousness is the practice of dignity. It is not about the search for recognition of our merits, but the respect of our own essence and the commitment to act in life based on it (our own essence).

The word dignity comes from the Latin, dignitas. It is associated with the personal value, the merit, the virtue, condition, rank, and honor. It is also associated with the idea of majestic beauty, magnificence.

The False dignity

When we mention those who occupy high positions in a political regime, we often speak of them as “dignitaries of the regime” and this dignity is understood as a rank in the social hierarchy that everyone recognizes. Being worthy of respect is confused with the fact of representing something in front of others. By extension, the fact of representing something in front of one self. Men have their presumption and vanity, the need to say they are someone and not and body.

Already in Roman times and in later ones, the aspiration to achieve the dignitas, their dignity consisted more in obtaining what one considers to deserve as a person in the sense of the rank that should occupy in society than to find it within you. Plato alerts us to this behavior, reminding us that it can lead to a deviant form of government that is timocracy or the pursuit of

honors. This way of addressing dignity makes it excessively dependent on the social recognition and circumstances, without taking into account the interiority of the individual. And thus, in the name of the sacrosanct dignity of some and others, the worst crimes were committed, due to wounded pride, jealousy, selfishness and greed.

This search for social dignity through the recognition and exercise of power leads, in general, to a race for honors, splendor and appearance. It is a dignity of image where fashion and consensual thinking dictate what is convenient and worthy. Everybody considers today that our world has been transformed into a society of spectacle (show business), where form prevails over the substance. The important thing is not what you say or think, but the way in which things are said and values fall away. But in reality, we have gone further, because now we have entered, thanks to the virtual world, into the era of the simulacrum. “The reality matters little, what counts is all the rest, everything that surrounds what we could have lived, if we had not had this banal, predictable life …” 2)Frederic Beigbeder, Au secours, pardon, Ed. Grasset, 2007.

It is incredible the amount of virtual paradises that abound in the WEB, with its impeccable villas, perfect loves, where you can do everything you dream, where you can do everything without living it truly, without effort. Real life does not exist anymore, neither the responsibility nor the commitment. Each one builds its virtual identity, its false dignity. It is curious that a civilization that has fought for decades for the dignity of man, for the respect of cultures, for commitment to nature, has finally lost its own dignity, powerless to carry out individual and collective reforms. This civilization escapes itself in a fantasy, as if after it, simply the flood would come.

In search of dignity

But the need to recover human dignity is irrepressible within man and since the beginning of the twenty-first century, new trends are rising in its search, rejecting the false proposals of the last century. Through social, humanitarian and cultural volunteering, thousands of young people and less young people have taken up the practice and development of their own dignity, providing a new dignity to the men and women who help with their actions.

This commitment to reality has an inestimable philosophical value and allows us to reappropriate the philosophical sense of dignity. The concept of dignity and its practice is an excellent engine to develop a reform of our vision of life inspired by wisdom and humanistic philosophies. 3)Humanism stresses that if man is not supposed to be free, he will never be free.

The Human dignity, from the philosophical point of view, is understood under other principles. The French philosopher Bertrand Vergely reminds us that there is something in man that has no price, because it is beyond all price and at the same time gives its price to everything that has a price. This something does not evoke anything other than the dimension/level of the spirit. The spirit is not something precious just because it allows us to understand reality and free ourselves from it, but because by seeing things through the spirit, it ennobles them by elevating them instead of reducing them, that is, installing them in what they have of worthy (dignity), and of excellence. The moral life that is the practice of philosophy in an everyday life has the mean to make us live this truth.

The Greek philosophers had warned us that philosophy had no value if it was limited to a discourse. Through the acquisition of a living knowledge, the wise person updates the power of which a man is capable of accessing the good. He has the greatest strength a man can possess, which Greek philosophers assimilated to virtue. And the practice of virtue is nothing other than the development of the dignities of man. The Greek term for the word virtue is arete, the excellence. A force and a energy capable of generating a movement, a good action, an excellent action. Virtue leads to an action that produces dignity. The cardinal virtues that the Greeks had distinguished are courage, prudence, temperance and justice. They are the pedestal of wisdom. They always represent acts that lead us to transcend our instincts, our comfort, our inertia, our mechanicalness and our cowardice.

Socrates, as Plato reminds us, said: “I do not say that the non-moral goods of which I have spoken (money, reputation, prestige), have no value, but that their value is vastly inferior to that of the most precious good in life, the perfection of the soul … “4) In Gregory Vlastos, Socrate, ironie et philosophie morale, p. 303, Ed Aubier.

The virtues set up the constitutive goods of happiness, which is the ultimate Good. They are not conditioned by anything outside. They are moral goods that have their source in the inner life of each being. They give us dignity because nobody can take them from us and that is why they are the true happiness, the eudaimonia. 5) See La voie du bonheur, la philosophie vivante de Socrate, F. Schwarz, Ed des 3 Monts.

The dignity of man

In the XV century, inspired by classical authors, but also by the Cabala, the Bible and Hermetism, the Italian philosopher Pico de la Mirandola wrote a famous speech “De hominis dignitate” or “Of the dignity of man”. There he reminds us that unlike other terrestrial creatures, the man, to realize his human condition, must know how to choose between the animal and the angel. It is the exercise of his inner freedom that guarantees his dignity. Human nature, by containing all natures, compels the conscience to a choice that no condition or inheritance can determine.

“If you see a man crawling on the ground, let on his belly, it is not a man what you see, but a trunk. If you see a man whose vision is clouded by the vain phantasmagoria of his imagination (…), a slave of his senses, it is an animal that you see and not a man. If you see a philosopher discerning all things according to the right reason, venerate him: he is a celestial and not terrestrial being; If you see a contemplative being withdraw without worrying about his body in the sanctuary of his spirit, it is not a terrestrial being or a celestial being, but a divinity wrapped in human flesh. But where does all this tend to? To make us understand that it correspond to us, since our native nature allows us to be what we want, to ensure above all that we are not accused of having ignored our highest responsibility, transforming ourselves into beasts of burden or deprived of reason. (…) That a kind of sacred ambition invades our spirit and makes us dissatisfied with mediocrity. We aspire to the peaks, we work with all our strength to reach them. “6) Pico de la Mirandola, Speech on the dignity of man.

It is Kant who theorizes in a very precise way the principle of human dignity. “Work in a way to treat humanity, both in your person and in the person of others, always as an end and never only as a mere mean.” 7) see Dictionary of philosophy, Nicola Abbagnano, Ed. Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 1963.

This statement of the second categorical imperative establishes, in effect, that every man (or as Kant says “all rational being”), as an end in itself has a value that is not relative but intrinsic. This value in question, which cannot be quantified, is dignity. “What concerns human needs has a mercantile price, what provides a satisfaction by putting our perceptions into play has a price of feeling, what can make something become an end in itself, with an intrinsic value, it does not simply have a price, has dignity. ” 8) Kant, Fundamentals of the Metaphysics of Customs

Every human being has no price or equivalent with any other. What has a price can be replaced by anything equivalent; what is superior to any price and that therefore does not allow any equivalence, has a dignity. Morality and humanity are the only things that have no price.

These Kantian concepts reappear in a very beautiful writing by F. Schiller “Of grace and dignity”: “The mastery of the instincts through moral force is the freedom of the spirit and the expression of the freedom of the spirit, in the world of the phenomena, (in the everyday), is called dignity.” (Note: Mastery of instinct by moral force is freedom of mind, and dignity is the name of its epiphany. It is called autonomous who he is capable of addressing himself according to a law of his own enforced from the inside and not imposed from the outside. Substantially, the dignity of a rational being, Kant tells us, is the fact that he “does not obey any law that is not also established by and in himself” to which he adheres. But this autonomy of man, claims to be aware if that law is not contrary to the universal law, but, falls into separateness, individualism, the search for laws and principles at the service of particular interests.

To be able to act with autonomy, you must first be able to think for yourself and obey your own decisions, this is what is meant by freedom of the spirit. Obedience to ones freely chosen thoughts, grants dignity. Free will refers to the ability that each person has to be able to determine for himself, deciding and being faithful to his decisions. Rousseau rightly conceived freedom not as the fact of not being subjected to anything, but of giving oneself laws of action that commit us in our lives. To practice freedom requires an inner commitment that does not consist in satisfying our whims or immediate desires, but to that which is just and good.

The moral life and the practice of dignity

Kant clarifies perfectly that morality should not be confused with moralization. It is not about giving lessons to others or apostrophizing them in the name of some dogma. It is an internal behavior that forces us to transcend ourselves with respect to our own particular interests in order to act accordingly to the universal or collective good or interest. Kant says “do in such a way that your principle of action can be elevated as a universal law. That what is good for you, can be good for the human race”. ( Nicola Abbagnano, op. Aforementioned.))

We must understand that morality is not simply about uses and customs, but is also related to the domain of the principles that govern human action. The intellectual life is insufficient to evolve and to not fall prey to subjectivity and egocentrism. The moral life implies the practice of each of the ideas that we accept as constitutive of ethics.

In order to develop it, we need moral strength. In other words, an effort to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from acting in the same way we think of our lives. Ethics is the part of philosophy that deals with the obligations of man and the morality of the customs that could implement them. Ethics and morals are the theory and practice of a philosophy in the classical way that elevates man to his own dignity.

“The practical aspect of philosophy is to bring out those inner values that we all possess. This procures great confidence in oneself and in others and above all an inexhaustible capacity to solve the difficulties of life.” 9) Delia Steinberg Guzman, Editorial of the 2007 NA Yearbook.


The conditions of dignity

As we have seen, the concept of dignity is related to a series of philosophical principles or ideas: the wisdom that allows us to overcome ignorance, the freedom of the spirit that pulls us out of submission, the moral force that frees us from mechanicalness, of inertia and the autonomy that allows us to be less dependent on situations and circumstances.

These principles are intimately related, stimulating each other, providing us with a true philosophical program for the elevation of man and society


  1. Man is an end in itself. Priceless.
  2. He does not obey more than the laws that he makes as his own from the inside to the outside. These are of a universal or general interest nature and allow to act with autonomy.
  3. The moral life is the condition of that autonomy and dignity. To achieve it, one must master and transcend oneself through the development of a moral force.
  4. The freedom of the spirit applied to everyday existence, leads us to our dignity. And…
  5. The “dignities” we develop are the virtues that constitute wisdom. This brings us to atheorem:

1) The philosopher seeks wisdom, that is, learning to do good. For this, he must develop certain virtues that make up his intrinsic qualities and lead him to conquer himself and that is his dignity, because he assumes and transcends his human condition, fighting against cowardice, vice, etc.

2) This dignity allows him to exercise his freedom of spirit, avoiding any form of submission.

3) In practice, this is translated by the continuous development of a real moral strenght that allows it to cope with everyday circumstances and difficulties, managing to move and get out of comfort, inertia or mechanicity.

4) Thus, he achieves autonomy, the non-dependence in the face of circumstances and situations, being able to keep inside his cheerful heart and his confidence in front of life, intact.

 This is the corollary in the path of search and the philosophical practice of dignity that consists, as the orientals would say, in the practice of their own law of action, that which expresses their own identity, which has no price.

Dignity allows to recognize a true ideal

Men are beings of conscience and are realized as such within the human community of consciences. If we hurt the conscience of a man, we somehow destroy his humanity. It is consciousness, as Socrates demonstrated with his daimon, which makes men live, projecting them to the plane of the spirit.

Wanting to mean something respecting their own dignity, fighting so that Humanity in general can be worth something, is not in vain. It is the essential commitment, because trying to reach that plane of existence, Humanity finds its own humanity.

The search and practice of dignity transform man into an idealist. An idealist is someone who needs to act so that the world and himself can be transformed, improved. We all know that ideals change us. They allow an inner transformation of the individual and also a transformation of society.

Michel Lacroix reminds us that “the soul is colored by the thoughts that occupy it (…) if their thoughts turn towards an ideal, the soul rises (…) if, on the contrary, the soul is deprived of an ideal, it becomes impoverished ” 10) Michel Lacroix, Avoir un idéal est bien raisonnable?, p. 127, Ed. Flammarion.

But in the uncertainty of the moral valuations of the contemporary world, increased by the two World Wars and all the terrorist, economic or inter-ethnic conflicts, later, how to choose an ideal?

It is natural that we are baffled, because the ideologies, the parties and the regimes that explicitly or implicitly have contravened the dignity theorem, have proven to be ruinous for themselves and for others.

Today more than ever, it is the criterion of dignity that can allow us to decide on the validity of the ideals that can be suitable for us. Any proposal that does not promote the inner and outer

dignity of man, already contains in itself the germ of its anti-humanity. It can be said that the demand for the dignity of the human being is the fundamental key that will allow us to accept or not ideals or forms of life established or proposed in this 21st century. Dignity allows to overcome the fear of commitment and ideals.

Notas   [ + ]

1. Monographic work presented in the General Assembly of the OINA in 2008.
2. Frederic Beigbeder, Au secours, pardon, Ed. Grasset, 2007.
3. Humanism stresses that if man is not supposed to be free, he will never be free.
4. In Gregory Vlastos, Socrate, ironie et philosophie morale, p. 303, Ed Aubier.
5. See La voie du bonheur, la philosophie vivante de Socrate, F. Schwarz, Ed des 3 Monts.
6. Pico de la Mirandola, Speech on the dignity of man.
7. see Dictionary of philosophy, Nicola Abbagnano, Ed. Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 1963.
8. Kant, Fundamentals of the Metaphysics of Customs
9. Delia Steinberg Guzman, Editorial of the 2007 NA Yearbook.
10. Michel Lacroix, Avoir un idéal est bien raisonnable?, p. 127, Ed. Flammarion.