Dignity manifests in ourselves on various levels, from the basic where it is inalienable and common, then to the developmental level where dignity can be achieved or lost, recognized or withheld. Dignity therefore is identity.
This identity is the uniqueness that differentiates humans to non-humans. In this respect, mixing our biological finitude with cultural refinements, we radically differ from animals. Animals do not form cultures. Animals inherit some skills by copying the behavior of others, but genetics remains the dominant mode of intergenerational information transfer.
Humans can participate intensively in the knowledge and skills that each other has acquired. This collaborative learning is what has produced human cultures. Human dignity includes the capacity for growing into and assimilating a cumulative transmissible culture.
It could be said that one person’s dignity is distinctively a Filipino, be that he is raised in the Philippines, not only is he raised in that landscape but into that culture. To differentiate, animals, failing such cultural heritages, fails in such possibilities of dignity.
HUMAN DIGNITY AND ANIMAL INTEGRITY.
Distinguishing humans from animals however must not result in a separatist approach where we begin to devalue animal life. One ought to respect life, be it human or animal.
But certainly, human life carries a dignity that merits an especially high level of respect. By being discriminating about our uniqueness as humans, we are obliged to the idea of human dignity.
We would never attribute dignity to rocks, or plants, or animals no matter how majestic or sublime they are. True, we do not learn what it means to be human by studying apes, but if we can gain some account of the thresholds we have crossed, the more we might understand...