The Core Meaning of Human Dignity

Authors

  • AC Steinmann

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2016/v19i0a1244

Keywords:

human dignity, human rights, supra-positive values, Kant, categorical imperative, inherent human dignity, moral ethics, post-war rights protecting paradigm, constitutional rights, constitutional values, cruel and unusual punishment, socio-economic rights

Abstract

The concept of human dignity is relatively new in international and domestic constitutional law. Dignity is protected as a value or a right, or both, in international law and many domestic jurisdictions. It is difficult to define human dignity in a legal context, as the concept is not defined in the first international document which recognizes inherent human dignity and the protection thereof, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1946) and many international (and national) documents enacted thereafter. Despite dissensus regarding the widespread use of the concept, dignity has come to display three elements in constitutional adjudication post World War Two: the ontological element which entails that human beings have equal inherent human dignity that cannot be waived or diminished; the second element being the claim that inherent human dignity has to be recognised and respected; and the limited-state claim as the third element which entails that states have a positive obligation to progressively realise human dignity through the mechanism of socio-economic rights. It is widely accepted that these elements root in Kantian moral ethics which holds that man's autonomy is based upon universal dignity, as a result of which man should never be used as a means to an end, but only as a means in himself. Kant expressed this idea through formulation of a categorical imperative, namely that everyone's inherent human dignity has to be respected and protected universally. The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1946), article 1(1) of the German Basic Law and section 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 embody the elements of Kant's categorical imperative. As a result, the three elements are applied as a definitional term of human dignity in German and South African constitutional adjudication. Based on these elements, it can be argued that the current idea of universal inherent dignity, at least in German and South African law, comports with Kant's ideal that man should never be used as a means to an end.

 

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Published

2017-05-17

How to Cite

Steinmann, A. (2017). The Core Meaning of Human Dignity. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 19, 1–32. https://doi.org/10.17159/1727-3781/2016/v19i0a1244

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Articles