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In ordinary modern usage, the word denotes "respect" and "status", and it is often used to suggest that someone is not receiving a proper degree of respect, or even that they are failing to treat themselves with proper self-respect.There is also a long history of special philosophical use of this term.Dan Egonsson, followed by Roger Wertheimer, argued that while it is conventional for people to equate dignity with 'being human' (Egonsson's 'Standard Attitude', Wertheimer's 'Standard Belief'), people generally also import something other than mere humanness to their idea of dignity.
In Kant's words: "Morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity." Specifically with respect to human dignity, which his writings brought from relative obscurity in Western philosophy into a focal point for philosophers, Kant held that "free will" is essential; human dignity is related to human agency, the ability of humans to choose their own actions.
But while sharing Kant's view that rights arise from dignity, Gewirth focused far more than Kant on the positive obligations that dignity imposed on humans, the moral requirement not only to avoid harming but to actively assist one another in achieving and maintaining a state of "well being".
Some of the practices that violate human dignity include torture, rape, social exclusion, labor exploitation, bonded labor, and slavery.
Absolute poverty is associated with overt exploitation and connected to humiliation (for example, being forced to eat food from other people's garbage), but being dependent upon others to stay alive is a violation of dignity even in the absence of more direct violations.
Relative poverty, on the other hand, is a violation because the cumulative experience of not being able to afford the same clothes, entertainment, social events, education, or other features of typical life in that society results in subtle humiliation; social rejection; marginalization; and consequently, a diminished self-respect.
Another example of violation of human dignity, especially for women in developing countries, is lack of sanitation.Having no access to toilets leaves currently about 1 billion people of the world with no choice other than to defecation in the open, which has been declared by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations as an affront to personal dignity.Human dignity is also violated by the practice of employing people in India for "manual scavenging" of human excreta from unsanitary toilets – usually by people of a lower caste, and more often by women than men.Violations of human dignity as degradation refer to acts that degrade the value of human beings.These are acts that, even if done by consent, convey a message that diminishes the importance or value of all human beings.However, it is rarely defined outright in political, legal, and scientific discussions.International proclamations have thus far left dignity undefined, Violations of human dignity in terms of humiliation refer to acts that humiliate or diminish the self-worth of a person or a group.‘I know it when I see it even if I cannot tell you what it is’”.More generally, etymology of the word “humiliation” has a universal characteristic in the sense that in all languages the word involves “downward spatial orientation” in which “something or someone is pushed down and forcefully held there”.The term may also be used to describe personal conduct, as in "behaving with dignity".English-speakers often use the word "dignity" in proscriptive and cautionary ways: for example, in politics it can be used to critique the treatment of oppressed and vulnerable groups and peoples, but it has also been applied to cultures and sub-cultures, to religious beliefs and ideals, and even to animals used for food or research.