, legal, and political discussions use the concept of dignity
to express the idea that a being has an innate right to be valued
, respected, and to receive ethical treatment. In the modern context dignity can function as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights
. English-speakers often use the word "dignity" in proscriptive and cautionary
ways: for example in politics it can be used to critique the treatment of oppressed and vulnerable groups and peoples, but it has also been applied to cultures and sub-cultures, to religious beliefs
and ideals, to animals used for food or research, and to plants. "Dignity" also has descriptive
meanings pertaining to human worth. In general, the term has various functions and meanings depending on how the term is used and on the context.
The English word "dignity", attested from the early 13th century, comes from Latin dignitas
(worthiness) by way of French dignité
. In ordinary modern usage it denotes "respect" and "status", and it is often used to suggest that someone is not receiving a proper degree of respect, or even that they are failing to treat themselves with proper self-respect. There is also a long history of special philosophical use of this term. However, it is rarely defined outright in political, legal, and scientific discussions. International proclamations have thus far left dignity undefined, and scientific commentators, such as those arguing against genetic research and algeny, cite
dignity as a reason but are ambiguous
about its application.