Henry Flynt

“Dignity: A Outline”


January 11, 2007

UC San Diego









The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).


                                    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family …


The European Constitution of 29 October 2004 provides for the human person.  It provides for respect for human dignity, which it calls a value.


Israel enacted on 17 March 1992 the Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty.  §1:  The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Aharon Barak, “Human Dignity Is a Constitutional Right.”  HaPraklit 41 (1994), page 287.  [Hebrew]


Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference (2002)

“The ultimate value we should be concerned to maximize is human dignity—the dignity of all human beings, equally, as children of the creative, redeeming God.”  (195)

“Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image”   (201)

“Creation has its own dignity as God’s masterpiece.”  (167)

“the dignity of difference — the insistence that what is most precious in our world, and constantly at risk, is diversity itself.” (173)

“the requirement of human dignity.  If you and I are linked because … I can force you to do what I want then I have secured my freedom at the cost of yours.  I have asserted my humanity by denying yours.”  (202)


Bataille:  Dignity is the sacredness inherent in every person. 




Is dignity innate or attained?

Is dignity internally generated or bestowed?

Is it in the realm of overt behavior or of interiority?

If in the realm of overt behavior, does it pertain to a delimited group?

If it is in the realm of interiority, does it pertain to an individual—or to collective humanity (so-called culture)?

Is dignity granted to everyone, as if an honorific—or are many people devoid of it?

If a person lacks dignity, who is to blame?  Does dignity matter only when one lacks it and wants it (is it an exclusively negative issue)?


Dignity and evil; dignity and morality.


Dignity has two antonyms, humiliation and degradation (defilement).  Defeat vs. disgrace.  We are concerned with degradation.  The question what is dignity and the question what does degradation degrade are the same question.







A tentative definition of innate dignity:

my appreciation that human life is a privilege and is poignant;

my suitable appreciation of my quest for my full stature.

[Moreover:  my possibility reaches beyond any purpose I can contrive for myself.] 

Probems in this definition.





the scientific perspective annuls:

freedom of the individual

absolute obligations (morality)



J.F. Collingwood, review of Ludwig Büchner’s Force and Matter, Anthropological Review [Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute], Feb. 1865. 

a bold and fearless statement of the case for Materialistic Atheism, it is the ablest and bravest work extant    Science and Theology stand face to face as armored and open enemies.  … Dr. Büchner regards the universe as a piece of dead mechanism.  [the reviewer’s solution to the crisis:] Let theologians keep to their own province … 


Claude Bernard, (1813-1878), Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865).  Bernard introduced the idea that living creatures function according to the laws of inanimate matter.


Rudolph Carnap, The Unity of Science (1934)  B945.C25 U5 ¬B ¬P

International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (Chicago, 1938)

Carnap:  all of psychology, humanities, social science, history are merely biology.  There is only biology of individual organisms and biology of groups.  Animals and humans are covered by the same discipline, since humans are animals.


B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity

Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

Hubert Dreyfus, “The Misleading Notion of the Mental”

Paul Churchland, A Neurocomputational Perspective (1989)

Paul Churchland, The Engine of Reason (1995)

Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science

“the brights,” Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett.



meta-technology.  I would like to see the scientific age superseded by a meta-technological age.  Meaning that a person or community would have meta-technology at its beck and call.

personhood theory.  devolves analytically from common sense via introspection.


attached dignity

unattached dignity




Characterization of natural science.

Science is a fanatical mysticism of dehumanization.

To science, there is no “objective rectification of human subjectivism” which is specially accessible to humans.  There is no human vocation illuminating itself. 

An insightless representation of insight cannot be authentically representative.  It can only demean.


Personhood theory is a knowlege (so to speak) in which human vocation illuminates itself.  It is an insighted representation of insight.  That is why this discussion has to invoke it to have anything to talk about.


Science derives the world, as the ordinary person knows it, from an infinitely remote objectivity.

Science finds the universe to be a dead mechanism.  “A complete reality-description … doesn’t need anything but crystal mechanisms.” 


Science is uniquely characterized, i.e. defined, as the mystical campaign to eradicate every speck of dignity in the universe.


The physically real is death-as-God.


Nietzsche:  God is dead.

Physics:  God is death.



The Unity of Science vs. social being

I flatly deny the Unity of Science principle.  I flatly deny that social being can be understood as a biological phenomenon, to refer to Carnap.  Social being is more about invention, imagination, fantasy than about overt acts.  “The imaginary” cannot be reduced to a mechanism.

Aside:  We can define human species-being, so beloved by Marx and others.  It consists of the grandiose dispensations of the cosmic-minded few which become socially obligatory for the multitude.





We are continually engaged in valuing.

We continuously make choices in uncertainty.

I am already beyond myself, an involved doer in a world, on my way to a limit.

Everyone must win him or herself—or fail to do so.





A person can set out to know the best that can be known, to do the best that can be done.  That means searching out options, comparing them, and judging some superior to others. A few people do this.

Because personal identity, and catharsis (or mere comfort), are so important to people, they posture themselves in ways that educated people already know are indefensible.  That is constitutive of social being.

Trading up is not the last word.  The person who trades up still accepts the ready-made products on the culture shelves as the choices.  If your civilization has a fatal flaw, then not only does trading up not save you; it condemns you to die by that flaw.







emotional sensitization — real emotion

appropriate receptivity

being one’s own person

joyful actuation


dignity enjoyed

If we are talking about assuming one’s full stature, then there is much to be expected, wished for, simply because it is possible and somebody has acceded to it at some time. 


lucid judgment

unreserved acceptance of something from without

an unreserved commitment to a venture, a pursuit  

to challenge oneself to an honorable goal

relative mastery, an avenue or dimension in which your will is relatively unopposed

cosmic perspective



an achieved ease with oneself

winning oneself, having won oneself



Afterward:  “the light”

“The light” can be interpreted as an allusion to various “excellences”:


*life as a privilege

*my possibility exceeds me

dreams (literally)


drug revelations


*cognitive alertness or insight


*cosmic perspective

splendor, radience


[*verbal, assertoric or injunctive, at least typically]

The common notion about these is that they converge to a single apex and issue from a single source.  On the contrary, these “excellences” cannot be reduced to one another, do not converge.  “The light” is a balance of heterogeneous “excellences.”  To explain them by saying that a divine person wears many hats, differentially distributing love to some, morality to others, originality to yet others, etc., is not credible.







A.1. Ordinary failure.


a.  What is at stake?

i. “All humans are persons.”

(Human personhood is emphatically not divine.  We are ignorant, fallable, seducible, frail, ultimately helpless, absolutely limited in time.  We cannot even prove that the human race will be here in 2107.)

ii. “All are under obligation to contribute to the common good.” 


(i) and (ii) establish degradation as a way in which life can go awry.  Degradation spoils the self to itself.  Moreover, given that a person is a doer, then—other things being equal—the abject doer sets a bad example, and denies a kind of assistance to the rest of us.  (When people relish somebody’s degradation, that is a separate counter-case.) 


We do not need any reference to the sacred or spirituality (in a distinctive sense) to define degradation.  There is no mention whatever of “survival of death,” the extent of the cosmos, or divinities.


b.  The failing person

c.  How one’s failure matters to others


A.2. A perennial tropism for degradation? 


A.3. Sodalities of the abject.



Systematically abusive institutions.  A well-defined victimizer group degrades a separate well-defined victim group in the realm of external behavior.

The importance of social identity; the quest for social identity; claims about self-hatred.



The culture of the West since 1970.


                                    Degradation can also play out inwardly, and the person who degrades and the person who is degraded can be the same person. 

                                    In the first instance, I am concerned with what I can detect about the phenomenon by analyzing its public or outward manifestations.  I do not have to be able to see into hearts and souls.  There is no question of imputing something to the actors in a paranoid way.  There is no question of being unfair to them.  All I am doing is to hold them to their word. 


Outer Manifestations


case-in-point:  the deconstruction/punk crossover

Jacques Derrida, “Limited Inc. abc ...,” Glyph 2

the Neoists

John Strausbaugh, NY Press, 1992.  “We all live in a movie, constructing our ambitions and desires, personalities and beliefs from disposable bits we pick up off the screen.”                                                             

Culture Shock (N.Y.U.), 31 January - 2 February 1997.  A laudatory review of Marilyn Manson on one side of the page, and a notice on the other side that the newspaper was hiring staff, who were required to be responsible, diligent, upright, dedicated, conscientious, etc.

NYPress, April 9, 1997, page 1.  “… a thoroughly jaded presumption and acceptance of all lies all the time—has become the American norm.”

Communiqué After Dark #10 [see attached]


Effective campaigns


The Contemporary Age


Inner life

Audience receptivity


The individual “soldier”


The puzzles:

• The people who claim personal dissolution as a mystique are well-organized, highly motivated, effective.  If they were who they say they were, they would not be successes:  if they lived the mystique, it would be self-destructive per se.

• Infinite hollowness and irony play out as infinite arrogance.

• What do the defilers succeed in defiling?

• How can the campaigners be loyal to personal dissolution and defilement, treating them as a sacred cause?

• How does self-dissolution become a conquering campaign?


except for quotes, 

© Henry A. Flynt, Jr.