Dr. Colosi Spring 2016

PHL 260 Ethical Issues Class 4 dignity of persons

  1. Distinctions within being which underlie analysis of personal being and dignity:


b)Ens essentia/esse

c)General essence/concrete essence (real instantiation)







Three new terms: Ontology, Axiology, Ethics

  1. Types of sources of personal dignity:




  1. Specific delineation of sources of personal dignity:

a)Ontological Dignity - What man is as a person, his essence, being and substance (not just what he accidentally has) INTRINSIC and INALIENABLE and COMMUNICABLE

b)Dignity of Conscious and Rational Person and its Levels


c)Acquired Dignity – Moral Dignity/Also other transcendent relations truth/God


Difficult question: Which is more important a) or c)?

d)Dignity as Gift and Bestowed Dignity -EXTRINSIC/INTRINSIC and ALIENABLE and COMMUNICABLE

e)Metaphysico-Religious Dignity – universal value of each human person




Definitions in the form: proximate genus/specific difference

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC): Man is a rational animal

Boethius (480 – 524 AD): Person is an individual substance of a rational nature[1]

Alexander of Hales (c. 1183 – 1245):

The person is a substance which is distinguished through a property related to dignity[2]

Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173):

Person is an incommunicable existence of a rational nature[3]

St. Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005):

Human beings are embodied persons

Quotations which express subjectivity and uniqueness as sources of personal dignity:

Josef Popper:

Some 30 or 35 years ago am enthusiastic admirer of the music of Wagner said in my presence to one of my dearest friends, who was not indeed an important personality but who was an extremely nice man: “What is F. worth compared with eight measures of Wagner’s Tannhaeuser?” My friend became pale as a corpse and, wounded and bitter, protested against such a degradation of his existence. Such a way of thinking made on me so terrible an impression that to this day I have still not overcome it, and all that has been said in this book about the evaluation of human lives is just an outgrowth of this impression.[4]

Bl. John Henry Newman:

[D]o you think that a commander of an army realizes it, when he sends a body of men on some dangerous service? I am not speaking as if he were wrong in so sending them; I only ask in matter of fact, does he, think you, commonly understand that each of those poor men has a soul, a soul as dear to himself, as precious in its nature, as his own? Or does he not rather look on the body of men collectively, as one mass, as parts of a whole, as but the wheels or springs of some great machine, to which he assigns the individuality, not to each soul that goes to make it up?[5]

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (par. 131):

Man exists as a unique and unrepeatable being, he exists as an “I” capable of self-understanding, self-possession and self-determination. The human person is an intelligent and conscious being, capable of reflecting on himself and therefore of being aware of himself and his actions. However, it is not intellect, consciousness and freedom that define the person, rather it is the person who is the basis of the acts of intellect, consciousness and freedom. These acts can even be absent, for even without them man does not cease to be a person.

Romano Guardini:

Man is not inviolable merely in virtue of the fact that he exists. An animal too could lay claim to such a right, since it, too, exists...Man’s life remains inviolable because he is a person...To be a person is not a psychological but an existential fact: it does not depend fundamentally on one’s age or psychological condition or on the gifts of nature with which the subject is provided....The personality may remain below the threshold of consciousness – for example when we are sleeping – but it remains, nevertheless, and must be taken into account. The personality may as yet be undeveloped – for example, when we are children – but it has a claim to moral respect from the very beginning. It is even possible that the personality in general may not emerge in one’s acts, since the psycho-physical presuppositions are lacking – as in those who are mentally ill...Finally, the personality can also remain hidden – as in the embryo – but it exists in the embryo from the outset and has its own rights. It is this personality that gives men their dignity. It distinguishes them from material objects and makes them subjects…We treat a thing like a thing when we possess it, use it, and finally destroy it – or, if we are speaking of human beings, kill it. The prohibition against taking human life expresses in the most acute form the prohibition of treating man as if he were a thing.[6]

[1] Boethius, Contra Eutychen et Nestorium, chapter 3.

[2] Alexander of Hales, Glossa, 1, 23, 9.

[3] Richard of St. Victor, De trinitate, 4,22; 4,25.

[4] Joseph Popper, Das Individuum und die Bewertung menschlicher Existenzen (Dresden, 1910), 161, cited in John F. Crosby, The Selfhood of the Human Person (Washington, CD: CUA Press, 1996), 69, n. 35

[5]John Henry Newman, “The Individuality of the Soul,” Parochial and Plain Sermons (London: Rivingtons, 1869), 81-83.

[6] Romano Guardini, “I diritti del nascituro,” Studi cattolici (May/June 1974), cited in Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, trans. Brian McNeil (San Francisco CA: Ignatius Press, 2006), pp. 68-69