Human DignityA Way of Living
Human Dignity
A Way of Living
Translated by Diana Siclovan

Dignity is humanity’s most prized possession. We experience the loss of dignity as a terrible humiliation: when we lose our dignity we feel deprived of something without which life no longer seems worth living. But what exactly is this trait that we value so highly?

In this important new book, distinguished philosopher Peter Bieri looks afresh at the notion of human dignity. In contrast to most traditional views, he argues that dignity is not an innate quality of human beings or a right that we possess by virtue of being human. Rather, dignity is a certain way to lead one’s life. It is a pattern of thought, experience and action – in other words, a way of living.

In Bieri’s account, there are three key dimensions to dignity as a way of living. The first is the way I am treated by other people: they can treat me in a way that leaves my dignity intact or they can destroy my dignity. The second dimension concerns the way that I treat other people: do I treat them in a way that allows me to live a dignified life? The third dimension concerns the view that I have of myself: which ways of seeing and treating myself allow me to maintain a sense of dignity? In the actual flow of day-to-day life these three dimensions of dignity are often interwoven, and this in part accounts for the complexity of the situations and experiences in which our dignity is at stake.

So why did we invent dignity and what role does it play in our lives? As thinking and acting beings our lives are fragile and constantly under threat. A dignified way of living, argues Bieri, is humanity’s way of coping with this threat. In our constantly endangered lives, it is important to stand our ground with confidence. So a dignified way of living is not any way of living: it is a particular way of responding to the existential experience of being under threat. It is also a particular way of answering the question: what kind of life do we wish to live?

This beautifully written reflection on our most cherished human value will be of interest to a wide readership.

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More Info
  • November 2016
  • 300 pages
  • 152 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $29.95
  • 9780745689012
Table of Contents

Introduction: Dignity as a way of living

1. Dignity as autonomy

Being a subject – Being an end in itself – Slaughterhouses – What if it is voluntary? – Humiliation as demonstrated powerlessness – Escaping to an inner fortress – Having rights – Being patronized – Caring paternalism – Respect for alterity and conviction – Dependence: asking and begging – Begging for feelings – Inner autonomy: thought – Inner autonomy: wanting and deciding – Inner autonomy: emotions – Inner autonomy: self-image and censorship – Humiliation through serfdom – Autonomy through self-knowledge – Needing therapy – Dignity through work – Money

2. Dignity as encounter

When subjects encounter each other – Commitment and distancing – Recognition – Equal rights – Putting someone on display – Sex objects – Human commodity – Neglect – Talk to me! – Laughing at someone – Denying explanation – Manipulation – Deception – Seduction – Overpowering – Working with a therapist – No pity, thank you! – Encounters between autonomous individuals – Leaving an open future to the other – Dignified partings

3. Dignity as respect for intimacy

The dual need for intimacy – Feeling the other’s gaze – What is a defect? – The logic of shame – Shame as humiliation – Dignity as conquered shame – The intimate space – The innermost zone – Dignified disclosures – Undignified disclosures – Shared intimacy – Betrayed intimacy as lost dignity – A challenge: Intimacy as a lack of courage

4. Dignity as truthfulness

Lying to others – Lying to oneself – Honesty and its limits – Calling things by their proper name – Saving one’s face – Bullshit

5. Dignity as self-respect

Dignity through limits – Fluid self-images – Destroying self-respect – Sacrificing self-respect – Breaking self-respect – Responsibility for oneself

6. Dignity as moral integrity

Moral autonomy – Moral dignity – Dignity in guilt and forgiveness – Punishment: Development instead of destruction – Absolute moral boundaries?

7. Dignity as a sense for what matters

Meaning of life – One’s own voice – Equanimity as a sense of proportion – The view from the end

8. Dignity as the acceptance of finitude

When others lose themselves – Escape – Losing oneself: Resistance – Losing oneself: Accepting the journey into darkness – Dying – Letting someone die – Ending one’s life – Responsibility towards the dead

References & Further Reading

About the Author
Peter Bieri was born in Bern in 1944. He studied philosophy and classical philology and was Professor of philosophy at Bielefeld, Marburg and the Freie Universität Berlin.
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